Five years ago, 75 aviation-industry officials gathered locally to talk shop at a time when lingering effects of the recession and high oil prices were big concerns.
Much has changed since that initial Aviation Industry Night. The talk among the 250 who gathered at this year's event, held last week at the Blackwell Inn and Conference Center, was about jobs in aviation — and how hard it is to fill them.
The numbers show how much the industry has grown.
New federal data show that U.S. airlines have 5 percent more full-time and part-time workers than five years ago, and 3 percent more than a year ago. Total employment as of December 2015 was 613,142, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
And that's just airlines. Joining major airlines such as Delta and American with staffed recruiting booths at the aviation night were the Air National Guard, cargo airlines such as Ameriflight and private-aviation firms including Columbus-based NetJets and Wheels Up, founded by a former NetJets executive.
Also present were recruiters from aircraft-parts makers, airports, airport-development companies and law-enforcement organizations that use aircraft.
"The hiring outlook is very good right now," said Martin Rottler, who helped organize the event for Ohio State University's Center for Aviation Studies within the College of Engineering. "You can see that in how this event has grown."
Even more hiring might be occurring if airlines could find more pilots who meet the new flying-hour requirements established by the federal government in 2013. After the 2009 crash of a commuter jet near Buffalo, New York, Congress increased the required number of hours for a first officer of a regional jet sixfold, from 250 hours to 1,500, the same as the required hours for a captain.
This has become a particularly big issue for companies such as Republic Airways, which operates roughly a third of the flights at Port Columbus on behalf of the major airlines, flying smaller regional jets. It warned last year that it could be forced to file for bankruptcy, and its stock has sunk 84 percent in the past year.
Rottler said more young people seeking careers as pilots are finding a path by first becoming an instructor or a cargo-airline pilot, which has a lower requirement for flight hours. Others choose the military to get flight hours. (Former military pilots who got their start during the Vietnam era and went on to fly for the major airlines are nearly all at retirement age.)
The pilot shortage has ripple effects.
For one, the industry demand for working pilots has made it hard to hire pilots as instructors, according to a spokesman for pilot-training business FlightSafety International. That company has a base in Columbus and is co-owned by NetJets parent Berkshire Hathaway.
And for airports with a high percentage of regional jet flights, the pilot shortage makes it hard to secure new service.
Even so, the industry is much better off than it was less than a decade ago, when the recession and high fuel costs led to a wave of airline bankruptcies and layoffs.
Woody Green, a representative of American Airlines and a 1998 OSU graduate who grew up in Newark, joked that he was convinced for a while that he would never work for a company that was making money. American recently reported the largest one-year profit in airline-industry history: $6.3 billion.