Airlines expected to need 117K pilots over next 20 years

American Airlines recently had to overcome a computer glitch that let too many pilots have vacation time around the holidays.

It shows how badly American Airlines and other airlines need to boost pilot staffing. The company paid pilots extra to come in on days off to solve the shortage of pilots for holidays flights caused by a computer glitch. But that aside, there is an airline pilot shortage. It isn't just seasonal, and it's affecting all airlines.

The domestic airline industry predicts it will need 117,000 new pilots in the next 20 years. Two-thirds of airline pilots used to come from the Air Force. Now that's down to a fraction.

Because of budget restraints, the Air Force isn't training as many pilots and offering incentives to keep the one they have longer.

The education and flight training for people on the outside is expensive.

"My peer group, most people were here hired around age 30,” said airline captain Chris Manno. “So this 35 years later is coming up on when mandatory retirement is going to occur for the largest bubble of hiring that the domestic airlines have ever done. And there just aren't the replacements there."

Some European airlines have created their own pipeline of future pilots by grooming applicants from basic flight lessons, moving them to smaller planes, then regional airlines and finally to their major carrier. It's a system that's working for them.

Pilots like Chris Manno believe it's the way of the future for domestic airlines.

The FAA is doing what it can. About four years ago, it raised the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65. There's now talk of raising that to 67 for pilots who are in good physical condition, but it's only a stop gap, not a solution.