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Opinion
Tobin Harshaw

Airlines Can’t Blame the Pentagon for Pilot Shortage

Let the private sector fix the problem. The U.S. military has too few aviators as it is. 

Career takeoff. 

Career takeoff. 

Photographer: Matt May/Bloomberg

As the world emerges from the enforced hibernation of Covid-19, the airlines are struggling to wake up. A weekend of canceled flights and chaos at airports has been attributed to a pilot shortage, and United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby has found an easy scapegoat: the Pentagon. “The military produces far fewer pilots today than they did … in the Cold War Era,” he told “Axios on HBO.”

He’s correct, but maybe misses the point. The Air Force, Navy and Marines were traditionally the feeding pools for commercial operators, with roughly two-thirds of airline pilots being ex-military in the 1980s. But that has changed drastically. By 2019 the figure was around 30%, and the private flight-school industry has been thriving. (The pattern has held for cargo shippers as well.)