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COVID-19 and the Airline Industry Effects on Pilot Hiring, Retirements, and Flight Training

Not unlike other historical events, the COVID‑19 pandemic impacted demand for air travel, causing airlines to decrease flight activity. Airline pilot hiring is returning and pilots training and building their hours now will be among the most competitive, particularly if they have additional qualifications such as the ATP CTP.

Aviation Industry Facing Post-Pandemic Pilot Shortage

Airline Pilot Hiring in 2021

Before the global pandemic, a severe pilot shortage created one of the hottest job markets for professional pilots. While decreased demand in air travel after March 2020 paused hiring at the regional and major airlines, corporate and cargo operations were more isolated from the disruption. In some cases, these operations even saw an expansion in hiring.

Travel demand is increasing and in 2021 airlines are interviewing and hiring pilots. Regional airlines like GoJet Airlines and Endeavor Air have opened their First Officer applications and cargo operators, FedEx and UPS, are expected to hire nearly 800 pilots in 2021. United Airlines is currently interviewing eligible Aviate applicants and Frontier Airlines has announced hiring for 2021.

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Expert Analysis on Pilot Hiring Post-COVID-19

Kit Darby, an industry expert and retired airline captain who has forecasted pilot hiring following many other historical events, projects that pilot hiring will recover 70-80% of previous levels in one year or less.

Rapid Pilot Recovery

Pilot hiring will recover to 70-80% of previous levels in one year or less — with a two to three year recovery back to the previous levels and beyond.

80,000 Airline Pilots are Retiring

Full market recovery will be driven by future pilot retirements, averaging an average of 4,100 new pilots per year. Note that this demand alone exceeds the capabilities of the flight training industry today — the pilot shortage remains.

Twice as Many New Pilots Needed

The return to normal growth will require twice as many new pilots.

Long-Term Outlook Career Prospects for Pilots Starting Training

It takes two years to become a qualified airline pilot, making it essential to consider the long-term career outlook. The factors that caused the pilot shortage remain in effect and the early COVID-related retirements will only increase pilot demand. Thousands of pilots will be retiring when they turn 65 years old while the airline industry is forecasted to keep growing to meet the demand for air travel and freight.

Yearly Retirements at Major Airlines
Yearly Retirements at Major Airlines

United Airlines estimates half of the airline's 12,500 pilots will retire over the next ten years, and they will need to hire 10,000 pilots over that period to keep pace with growth. According to Boeing's Pilot and Technician Outlook, North America will need 208,000 pilots and an "adequate qualified pilot supply remains an important consideration as a large contingent of the workforce approaches mandatory retirement age." Further, Boeing states, “aspiring aviators who begin their training today will be well positioned to take advantage of new job opportunities as the industry recovers."

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Should I Postpone My Airline Career?

No — now is the time to become an airline pilot. It takes two years to become a qualified airline pilot. Postponing your airline career will affect your seniority and long-term career prospects.

Airlines are hiring and delaying your career means you will lose seniority to the aspiring pilots training today. Pilots choose their aircraft, flying schedules, location, and vacation schedules based on their seniority, which is also directly correlated to their pay. Your spot on the seniority list will affect you for the rest of your career. Delaying your career by one or two years could mean losing $400,000 to $800,000 in career earnings when you are a major airline captain.

Aspiring Airline Pilots Are Training Today and Are Training at ATP

ATP is hiring 30 flight instructors per month and graduates are being hired by airlines. By starting your Airline Career Pilot Program now, you will be able to take advantage of the following and get to the airlines first.

Join the Next Generation of Airline Pilots Training Today at ATP

From a Pilot's PerspectiveThoughts about COVID‑19, the Airline Industry and New Pilot Training

Chris - Mentor

“ …be the first to be able to take advantage of the hiring wave. Do not base your career, a lifetime decision, off of very short term events. All industries have ups and downs, but over a career it levels off and those pilots that position themselves well will benefit greatly when all of this short-term craziness settles down.”

Chris Pilot Mentor

Join the conversation at and read more about what Chris, other airline pilots and flight training students are discussing.

Airlines are Hiring ATP Graduates

Here are a few of the most recent pilots hired by airlines. You can view all of ATP's airline placements every year, going back to 2001.

Airline Pilot Requirements

You can become an airline pilot. Here is everything you need to know about becoming a commercial pilot starting with no previous experience.

The steps required to become a commercial pilot »

Airline Career Pilot Program graduates are being hired by the airlines

“ATP laid the foundation for success in my aviation career… from zero experience to my dream major airline in just 5½ years.”

Jordan Lascomb

Airline Career Pilot Program Graduate

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