US airline industry faces dire pilot shortage, to raise retirement age

The US airline industry wants to hire 12,000 pilots this year and 65,000 by 2012, amid a growing global shortage of pilots that threatens to disrupt passenger services worldwide.

The problem is compounded by retirements, a lack of new recruits and competition from overseas carriers, as well as the US military.

US airlines point their fingers at Indian companies, among others, saying they lure US pilots by offering them a tax-free salary. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has recognised that a worldwide pilot shortage is 'looming'. Japan can't get pilots fast enough, and neither can carriers in the Middle East, so both are poaching American pilots.

Commercial air travel has grown 8 per cent in the past five years, from 683 million in 2001 to 740 million passengers in 2006.

The FAA expects the number to jump to 1.2 billion passengers by 2020. To buy time for the US industry, the FAA is working to change its mandatory retirement age of 60, and permit one of two pilots in an aircraft's crew to fly up to the age of 65.