2021 FAA Airman Cert Data Trends – Highlights and Insights

Each year that the FAA releases statistical data on U.S. airmen certification efforts, I, and probably a very small number of other people in our industry get excited. We dork out over the data and try to parse it in ways that help us understand trends in our industry. If we can understand some of this data, it helps us understand what is happening in our pilot production pipeline.

The yearly data came out about a week ago, earlier than most years, and I have spent the last few days playing with the data and putting it into my own spreadsheets where I track some of the trends. Each year I do this, I like to share some of the data points I think might be interesting to others in the training sector of aviation. So, with that, let’s check out some of the data and trends I noted.

Overall Pilot Certificate/Rating Production Remains Strong

Even with many of the challenges we all have experienced in the past two years, overall pilot certificate production remains strong.

When we look at specific ratings, the primary ones being for Private Pilot, Instrument Ratings, and Commercial Pilot certifications, we see these specific ratings are still continuing to have relatively strong numbers of certificate issuances. In fact, pre-COVID numbers were actually lower than we saw even during COVID restriction affected time periods.

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Jason and Jim Bahamas 2022 Flying

How Many CFIs Endorse Applicants for Practical Test, with the 2021 Numbers

Ever wonder how you compare to other CFIs when it comes to how many applicants you sign off for a practical test in a given year? The good news is that in a general sense we can help you figure that out.

The FAA shares some data with industry members on how many CFIs sign off an (or multiple) applicants for practical tests each year. in ranges.

With that said, here is the table of those signoff statistics for the least few years, with the freshly shared 2021 statistics included:

As you can see from the bottom numbers, less than 10,000 CFIs endorse EVEN ONE applicant for a practical test on any given year. There are currently well over 110,000 CFI active CFI certificates, although as of January 1, 2022, only 83,596 of those had an active medical certificate, which means a small percentage of the total CFI certificate holder population is actively endorsing applicants for certificates and/or ratings on any given year. While I have covered this in previous posts, this doesn’t mean none of these CFIs are doing any instruction. They could be doing flight review, IPC, currency instruction, or none of this. Many of them are actively flying as professional pilots. However, it does not go without notice to me that in 2020 nearly 20% of the CFI population was over the age of 65. I will update these numbers in a future post when the full set of 2021 data and certification numbers is available.

This data again highlights the fact that is a small subset of the CFI population that is doing the bulk of the training for certificates and/or ratings. It also highlights the fact that the largest numbers of CFIs only endorse a small number of applicants each year. This trend has not changed over the recent years. In any given year, fully two-thirds of those CFIs that do endorse an applicant do less than 5 of them.

So, with that, if you are a CFI, you can now take a look at where you might fall in these ranges.

If you happen to be one of the few CFIs endorsing higher numbers of applicants for practical tests, you are certainly in limited company!

ATP Certificate Issuance Uptick in 2021

The aviation industry is without a doubt in need of pilots to serve in the front offices, airline flight decks, that transport people and goods throughout the United States and internationally. There was a certain downturn in 2020 and a big part of 2021, but it appears that the downturn is recovering. While aviation training in many lower-level certificate issuance efforts didn’t change to a great deal, we did see 2020 indicate a large reduction in the number of ATP certificates issued. This was directly related to the fact that airlines stopped running hiring classes at which ATP CTP classes were completed and where pilots completed ATP certification.

As 2021 continued and hiring again ramped up, many of these airlines started running classes and certifying the next batches of ATP pilots. We can see this from the preliminary data that has been shared with some in the industry.

From the following table and chart, we can see that ATP certificates increased in 2021 from the low point in 2020 when COVID-19 shutdowns were most greatly affecting certification efforts (and service needs).

When we look at the 10-year table of certificates issued we still see the trends of heavy issuance years when the “1500 hour rule” took effect during 2015 and 2016, and then a more normalized flow of ATP production in 2017, 2018, and 2019 as active hiring took place and airlines trained their next generation.

The dropoff in 2020 was obvious and big, but it does appear that the trend of certification numbers is increasing as 2021 continues and airlines provide most of the training for and certification of the next generation ATP applicants.

This trend will need to continue to serve the needs of the aviation transportation industry. The good news is that it appears the numbers are heading in a positive direction as we look at preliminary reporting of ATP certification numbers from 2021.