FAA Issues Rising Number Of Pilot Certificates

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The FAA issued 15,907 pilot certificates in August, a 34% increase compared to a year ago and up 77% compared to August 2019 levels, according to Jefferies, which monitors FAA data and the pilot supply pipeline. 

The number of Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certifications issued, which allow pilots to fly for scheduled airlines after 1,500 flight hr., totaled 1,266 in August, a 21% increase compared to a year ago and up 141% compared to August 2019. This suggests that U.S. airlines are having some success in finding pilots, although whether they will offset future pilot retirements remains in question, Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu writes.

Kahyaoglu estimates the airline industry is 4% undersupplied, equal to 5,000 pilots. The shortage expands to 8%, or 12,000 pilots, in 2025 and 9%, or 14,000 pilots, by 2030.

Today, 16% of ATP certified pilots are between the ages of 60-to-64 with another 17% between the ages of 55-to-59, Jefferies says. Demand assumptions are based on forecasted fleet expansions and number of pilots per aircraft type. The forecast estimates U.S. pilot demand expands at a 1.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2030.

The number of FAA student pilot certificates issued in August totaled 7,813, up 35% compared to a year ago and up 74% compared to August 2019. Private pilot issuances totaled 4,490, up 43% compared to a year ago and up 79% from 2019; while commercial pilot certifications, which allow pilots to fly for compensation or hire, including work for charter and cargo operators or as a flight instructor, totaled 2,338 issuances in August, up 25% year-over-year and up 58% compared to August 2019. 

For the first eight months of 2023, the FAA issued 87,300 pilot certificates, a 23% increase for the same period a year ago and up 43% from the same period in 2020. The total includes 7,526 ATP certificates, up 8% compared to the same period a year ago and up 125% from 2020. Meanwhile, the number of commercial pilot certificates issued through August in 2023 are 29% ahead of the same period in 2020, while private pilot certificates are up 36% and student certificates are up 42% compared to the same period in 2020.

Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.