The warnings are dire and getting considerable attention in both the trade and general media. The danger? A shortage of pilots.

Here are some of the issue’s bullet points:

Republic Airways, a regional serving American, Delta and United, said it had been canceling revenue flights because it couldn’t find and keep enough qualified pilots to fly them and in February filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as a result.

Boeing forecasts a need for an additional half million airline pilots between now and 2034.

JetBlue has launched “Gateway” programs to help generate interest in flying jobs and facilitate training of eventual first officers.

With new jetliners backlogged by the thousands, Boeing and Airbus and other planemakers have cause for concern. However, what are the chances that any airline will let their shiny $180 million 787s or $70 million A320neos just sit there, idle, going nowhere and costing plenty? How about no chance at all?

The Air Line Pilots Association nailed it when it cited pilot pay as the root of Republic’s groundings. “The supply of pilots willing to work for $25,000 is almost zero,” said one union official.

And that’s the heart of the “shortage” — money.

For decades, the U.S. airlines in particular have enjoyed a steady supply of front seaters trained at the expense of taxpayers through the military. But for a variety of reasons, that flow has lessened. Coincidentally, the recent federal law requiring pilots to have logged 1,500 hr. and earned an ATP to qualify for the right seat of an RJ, and the pay attendant to that lofty position, surely chills any passion for flight among many would-be aviators.

Once the airlines start funding ab initio students and increase pay scales for the regionals’ indentured servants, the supposed commercial pilot shortage will evaporate, as some Chinese carriers have demonstrated.

Domestic airline growth in China has been feverish, easily outpacing the country’s ability to assign experienced native captains for all its new A320s, A350s, 787s and 777s, among others. And so it raised the pay by a lot, and four stripers rushed in from Korea, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere by the hundreds — 689 of them by 2014.

No, the Boeings will keep going. It’s the light plane pilot numbers that concern me. They’re bad. The FAA tallied 357,479 active private pilots in 1980; last year that figure had dropped to 170,718 — a 52% decline. And the numbers are going to get worse.

According to Pete Bunce, CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the median age of private pilots is 60 years “and statistics show that once pilots turn 70, they drop off dramatically.”

As with the commercial pilot crisis, money is a major factor. Owning and operating a light aircraft can be expensive. The price tag on a new Cirrus SR22 is $500,000; monthly hangar rent can run $350-$1,000 or more; avgas averages $6 per gallon; an annual can cost thousands.

“Those are really big numbers,” notes King Schools cofounder John King. Moreover, he says the increased complexity of airspace combined with generally lower airfares that followed airline deregulation diminished the appeal of flying oneself. And have heavily impacted the industry.

“What industry?” asks Richard Collins, the long-retired editor of Flying and AOPA Pilot magazines. “It barely exists today.” He notes Cirrus is a leader in light plane production for delivering 300 aircraft in 2015, but “Cessna used to build that many on Saturday.”

Indeed, light aircraft manufacturing has withered. In the late 1970s, planemakers were delivering 12,000-14,000 piston aircraft annually. Last year, that figure was down to 1,056. Collins fears that light plane infrastructure and services will be lost as a result.

The decades-long decline has spurred both the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) to action.

The latter’s Young Eagles program, begun in 1992, has given some two million youngsters their first free ride in an aircraft since then and the association reports of those, 20,000 went on to become pilots, mechanics or air traffic controllers. The EAA is also promoting “Eagle Flights” for adults curious about aviation and promoting flying clubs to help reduce the expense of flying.

The AOPA, meanwhile, has launched a well-considered, staffed and funded “You Can Fly” program that Katie Pribyl, senior vice president of communications, says is aimed at reversing the decline by “addressing the entire life cycle of a pilot.”

The program includes developing a board-approved science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum high schools can adopt. And since four out of five student pilots drop out before earning their license, the association is creating programs and tools to help flight schools attract students and, most importantly, earn their wings.

Then to help keep newly minted pilots interested and flying, the AOPA is also supporting flying clubs — there are 700 in its network now and it hopes to help start another 20 this year. And for the 400,000 lapsed pilots, there’s a free “Rusty Pilot” seminar program to help attendees pass the ground-school portion of a flight review, allowing them to get back into the cockpit and sharpen old skills.

I sincerely hope these efforts succeed. If the private pilot decline is not halted and reversed, the strength and boundless rewards afforded by this most fundamental element of aviation may fade into oblivion. And that would diminish all.

This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Business & Commercial Aviation with the title "Empty Cockpits."