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Published: Wednesday, 7/6/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Demand for pilots is expected to soar

For major airlines, pilots earn between $29,933 and $235,819 a year. For major airlines, pilots earn between $29,933 and $235,819 a year.

The world's airlines expect they will need an additional 466,650 pilots for airplanes that will be added to their fleets during the next 20 years, according to a forecast by aircraft maker Boeing Co.

A large percentage of those new hires will replace pilots leaving through retirement and attrition.

In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a law meant to deal with age discrimination against older pilots. It raised the mandatory retirement age to 65 from 60, and the pilots who remained employed are now nearing retirement age.

In the next 10 years, it's likely major airlines will hire 40,000 to 50,000 pilots, with two-thirds filling posts vacated because of attrition, said Louis Smith, chief of FltOps.com, an online information service for professional pilots and aspirants.

That will be in stark contrast with 2009, the worst year in major airline hiring, he said. "In 2009, there were 30 pilots hired in the whole sector."

The biggest demand for pilots will be in the Asian Pacific region, according to Boeing, which forecasts that region will need 180,600 pilots during the next two decades. North America will need 97,350 pilots and Europe 94,800.

Annual salaries for regional pilots range between $21,000 and about $90,000. For major airlines, pilots earn between $29,933 and $235,819 a year.

The cost for aviation college varies, but often it exceeds $100,000. At Channel Islands Aviation in California, professional pilot program tuition is from $42,000 to $60,000.

Mark Nahan, a pilot for Virgin America, expects regional airline pilots to move to major airlines, so openings will be at the regional level. "They'll be doing hiring," he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects pilots and flight engineer employment will rise 12 percent through 2018; commercial pilots' growth is forecast at 19 percent.

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