Pilot shortage could mean fewer flights at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS10) - Roanoke Valley natives may soon have fewer flight options when flying out of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport as the nation faces a possible pilot shortage in the near future. This stems from a generation of pilots retiring and new Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

"Starting in 2017, about 40-percent of the commercial airline pilots that are flying right now will be retiring in a five year span," said Brad Boettcher, the Marketing Director at the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

Boettcher told us the FAA changed the retirement age back in 2007 from age 60 to 65, because of the large baby boom generation. As all those pilots plan to leave, airlines are left to fill many positions.

"Lastly in 2009, the FAA came out with a new rule after an accident in New York that said a pilot must have 1,500 hours before they can have an airline pilot license," said Jim Malloy, the Dean of Aeronautics at Liberty University.

Boettcher said the combination of these factors has led to this "the perfect storm" situation. He adds many major airlines, like Delta and United, are recruiting regional airline pilots, which is creating a lack of pilots to fly local flights. Then the pressure is on regional airlines to fill those open positions.

While Boettcher doesn't expect airlines to terminate service, the airport is taking precautions.

"What we are trying to do right now, is we're being very concerted about trying to work with the carriers to get large planes in," said Boettcher. "If there is a shortage we're already set up so, we're we have those larger aircrafts in place and keep the same number of seats going in and out."

But, that could mean fewer flights. For now, only time will tell.