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Analysis-Foreign pilots rush in as U.S. carriers struggle to staff up -Breaking

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© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: A United Airlines flight passes by the tail as it approaches Reagan National Airport in Arlington (Virginia), U.S.A, January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Allison Lampert, Rajesh Kumar Singh

(Reuters] – The United States is back in need of pilots. They are hard to find, and so many foreign pilots rush to take their place.

U.S. immigration lawyers reported a spike in requests for visas from pilots from countries still recovering from the pandemic.

This could provide some relief for an industry that is struggling to recover from a two year slump. However, domestic unions are reacting to the trend.

This is also indicative of a slow global recovery from COVID-19. While pandemic controls have begun to ease in some areas, Coronavirus infection rates are rising in many other countries. The booming U.S. travel market is expected to boost major U.S. carrier revenues by more than doubling their revenue from pre-pandemic. However, there are still some countries where airline traffic remains low.

Ana Barbara Schaffert of California’s AG Immigration Group said that the U.S. faces a severe shortage but the pilots in other countries are unemployed.

She has received more than 8,000 requests for consultation in recent months, and is screening over 2,000 resumes from pilots seeking to immigrate to the United States – up more than 90% from before COVID-19.

United Airlines predicts that pilots will remain scarce for many years. United Airlines stated that the United States is able to produce only 7,000 pilots per year. However, airlines need 13,000 pilots next year.

Lack of training resources, among others, is a major obstacle to the production of pilots.

Recent weeks have seen staffing issues at major carriers like Alaska Air JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ) Corp has caused massive flight cancellations. Airlines have rearranged their summer schedules to prevent disruption.

Even more severe are the shortages at regional airlines. They are being forced to take on a higher percentage of national carriers, which is causing a high attrition rate.

American Airlines (NASDAQ 🙂 Group Inc told its investors last month that the attrition rate of pilots at regional airlines was higher than the rate for hiring.

This is attracting interest from pilots across Canada, Europe and Africa, where traffic recovery is still ongoing, according to Carmen Arce, who is an attorney with Florida’s Arce Immigration Law.

Arce Harvey and Jean-Francois Harvey are global managing partners at Harvey Law Group. They said that they also receive inquiries from Russian pilots, whose airlines were hard hit by Western sanctions.

Trois Canadian pilots stated they were considering moving to America because of Canada’s strict COVID-19 regulations. These restrictions grounded aircraft earlier in the pandemic, and some aviators had to look for employment with Uber Technologies (NYSE:) Inc.

A ‘UNPRECEDENTED OPPORTUNITY’

Most foreign pilots hesitate to apply because immigration to the United States takes up to 26 month and can cost $20,000 with no guarantee of success.

It’s almost like you tried to travel to Colorado to experience the gold rush of (19th Century), but were prevented by Michigan,” stated a Montreal-based pilot with Transat AT Inc’s Air Transat.

“If the U.S. green-card process were to change, it would lead to a greater number of Canadian pilots fleeing (Canada).

Schaffert acknowledged that there is an unprecedented chance for skilled foreign pilots, despite the fact that demand has increased. The first step is to convince U.S. immigration officials of the benefits of permanent residency.

Non-U.S. citizens can apply for permanent residency under the “national interest waiver” clause without needing a job, which makes it simpler to move.

Schaffert claimed that over 90% of applications for experience pilots submitted to her firm were approved.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. However, a spokesperson stated that the agency decides on requests “on a case-by–case basis”.

Federal Aviation Administration reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has seen an increase in foreign-licensed Pilots seeking U.S. Certificates required for large Jets, to 718 by 2021. That’s about 24% more than 2019.

BARRIERS TO FLIGHT

Local unions also oppose foreign pilots. These unions want the airlines to be more proactive in removing barriers that prevent foreigners from becoming pilots.

Air Line Pilots Association, the largest union of pilots in the world, has stated that there is “adequate” supply of pilots. It boasts more than 62,000 members.

The ALPA stated, “ALPA opposes any attempt to use the Visa process to undermine the pay and benefits of a profession that is so vital to the U.S. economic and global travel.”

Australian pilots can apply for a visa to fly with ultra-low and regional carriers, such as ExpressJet Airlines, CommutAir and Breeze.

Faye Malarkey Black from the Regional Airline Association said that giving visas to other foreign pilots would solve the staffing issue.

SkyWest (NASDAQ:) Inc, which operates flights for Delta Air Lines (NYSE:), American and United, recently dropped 29 government-subsidized routes, blaming insufficient pilots.

Although the routes were eventually restored, Mesa Air Group (NASDAQ;) called SkyWest’s move “tip of an iceberg”, and warned that the issue could affect mainline carriers.

Delta Air Lines pilots protested at its hubs demanding that the airline improve their “fatiguing schedules”. Pilots at Southwest Airlines (NYSE) are complaining about rising fatigue rates.

United grounded 150 aircraft due to insufficient pilots. Black claimed that three of the flights operated by carriers before the pandemic were grounded.

Black explained that it’s the “classic game of musical chairs”. You can’t always have enough chairs. That means you lose something.

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