Hawaii's shortage of pilots could lead to fewer flights and higher prices if the problem is left unchecked, aviation officials said.
Three flight schools on Oahu have closed over the last 18 months, citing high operating costs and diminishing student enrollment numbers, Hawaii News Now reported this week.
The closings could worsen the shortage, which became more pronounced when the University of Hawaii closed its flight program in 2015.
"We just cannot generate the number of pilots we need," said Pat McNamee, president of the General Aviation Council of Hawaii.
The state needs about 100 new pilots each year to replace the pilots who have reached the mandatory retirement age of 65, McNamee said.
"We try to teach as many pilots as we can, but we're limited by facilities, air space, and obviously money. It's very expensive," McNamee said.
Charter flight companies are already seeing the effects of the pilot shortage, and it could eventually reach the big airlines, officials said.
The shortage has the potential to cause more harm in Hawaii than in other states, said Peter Forman, a Hawaii aviation expert.
"I think it will be in a worse situation both because there is fewer pilots being trained here than other places, and because we depend so heavily on air travel," Forman said.
It could also affect air safety, McNamee said.
"We've really lowered the minimum qualifications to get into the airlines because we're running out of pilots," McNamee said.