What is Being a Pilot Like in 2020?

When you think about a career as a pilot, it’s likely that you’re thinking about the Golden Age of Aviation — that glamorous period in the 1950s and 60s that saw the glory years of airlines like Pan Am and Concorde. Careers in aviation were seen as a cut above the rest, with work as a pilot seen as a status job that had you traveling the world and using some of the most advanced machinery of the era.

While the reality of air travel during that period was actually more sobering, with Fast Company stating that airline tickets were 40% more expensive when compared to today’s current prices, pilot work retains an aura of mystique and prestige even up to the present. However, the landscape of aviation has changed in the decades since, with advancements in technology and shifts in culture impacting pilot work. Here’s a glimpse of what being a pilot is like in the modern era.

Changes in Pilot Training

Working as a pilot for a big commercial airline may pay well, but it’s a long and expensive journey to get that license. One of the common hurdles to becoming a pilot is the cost of training and certification, which can often put young pilots into debt. Luckily, an article by Aviation JobNet reports that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) recently relaxed restrictions on flight simulators and other modes of pilot training. Pilot training also includes more training of soft skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and crisis assessment.

More Women in Aviation

During the so-called Golden Age of Aviation, the gender divide in the aviation industry was heavily skewed, with only 1 in 21,417 women holding an “other than student” pilot certificate. Today, Women of Aviation Week writes that there’s been some improvement, with 1 in 5,623 women working as a pilot. While the best ratio in the female pilot population was in the 80s (with 1 in 4,224), the industry has come a long way in ensuring that there’s equal opportunity for pilots of all genders.

A Looming Pilot Shortage

While working as a pilot may sound attractive, the truth is that not a lot of people are picking aviation as a career nowadays. Industry insider Marisa Garcia says that a pilot shortage is looming on the horizon, as more and more pilots age out and retire and fewer candidates come in to replace them. The pilot shortage is caused by a variety of factors, including changing demographics, a projected doubling of commercial flight passengers, and changes in regulations such as the 1,500-hour rule in the U.S.

New Technology

The world has come a long way since the Wright brothers’ first flight, and today’s planes are a far cry from the Wright Flyer of 1903. Business Insider lists several different ways that technology has changed air travel, from electric propulsion to biofuels to autonomous flight. The latter is especially important for pilots, as more and more airplane manufacturers are beginning to explore the possibilities of pilotless flights. The shift towards autonomous flying may be one solution to addressing the pilot shortage, but whether technology will eventually replace flesh and blood pilots is something that remains to be seen.