Employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 11 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Modest employment growth is expected as air travel gradually increases over the decade and as more travel takes place between Asia and the United States.
Job opportunities will be spread among both passenger and cargo airline companies.
However, employment growth may be tempered if airline companies raise prices to pay for higher taxes and fuel costs.
Most job opportunities will arise from the need to replace pilots who leave the workforce. Between 2010 and 2020, many pilots are expected to retire as they reach the required retirement age of 65. As older pilots retire and younger pilots advance, entry-level positions may open up. And the demand for flight instructors may increase as they are needed to train a greater number of student pilots.
Job prospects should be best with regional airlines, on low-cost carriers, or in general aviation, because these segments are anticipated to grow faster than the major airlines. In addition, entry-level requirements are lower for regional and commercial jobs.
However, pilots with less than 500 flight hours will probably need to accumulate hours as flight instructors or commercial pilots before qualifying for regional airline jobs.
Pilots seeking jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition because those firms tend to attract many more applicants than the number of job openings. Applicants also will have to compete with furloughed pilots for available jobs.
Pilots with the greatest number of flight and instrument hours usually have the best prospects. For this reason, military and experienced pilots will have an advantage over entry-level applicants.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition