U.S. pilot shortage forces airlines to cut flights, scramble for solutions
On December 27, 2021, airline pilots pass through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images
United States faces its most severe pilot shortage since recent history. Airlines are forced to cancel flights as passengers return from more than two years of Covid-19.
This crisis is forcing the sector to search for answers.
According to reports, at least one legislator is considering legislation to increase the retirement age of pilots flying commercial airline flights from 65 to 67. This would allow for more time on the air and help aviators.
One regional airline suggested lowering flight hours before joining an American carrier. Airlines are also rethinking their training programs in order to reduce the barriers to entry. In January, Delta Air LinesJoining other large carriers, it dropped a 4-year-old degree requirement for pilot hires.
Some airline CEOs warn, however that it could take many years for the shortage to be resolved.
“The industry’s pilot shortage is very real and many airlines won’t be able realize their capacity plans due to a lack of pilots. United AirlinesScott Kirby, CEO, spoke on April’s quarterly earnings call.
Kirby said that there are currently 150 aircraft grounded by United Airlines because of pilot shortage.
As training and licensing slowed, pilot recruitment was stopped by the Covid pandemic. Airline awards early retirementIn order to reduce labor costs, packages were offered to pilots and employees to provide assistance during crisis times when travel demand was low.
One former Captain of a large U.S. Airlines said that he felt like he had walked away from the pinnacle. He took an early retirement plan in 2020.
The major U.S. airlines plan to hire over 12,000 pilots in this year’s hiring. That is nearly twice the number of pilots that were hired last year, says Kit Darby, a consultant on pilot pay and retired United captain.
Regional carriers, which provide services to major airport hubs in smaller cities from smaller towns, are particularly affected by the shortage. These airlines have received retention and hire bonuses. However, the pay there is much lower than that at majors and are actively recruiting from these smaller carriers.
Phoenix-based Mesa Air GroupThe flight costs of United and American Airlines were increasing, so a quarter ago, nearly $43 Million was lost by the airline.
Jonathan Ornstein CEO of Mesa, said that they never anticipated attrition rates like these. The company loses money when it doesn’t fly its airplanes. Our quarterly results were clear.
According to Ornstein, Mesa takes 120 days to replace pilots who give two weeks notice.
He stated, “We could employ 200 pilots right away.”
Frontier Airlines and other regional airlines are two examples of such carriers SkyWestThey are currently recruiting Australian pilots under a visa special to ease the shortfall. But the numbers are not large compared to the overall rank and their hiring goals.
Republic Airways, a regional airline that flys for American, Delta, and United, petitioned last month the U.S. government for pilots with at least 750 hours to be allowed to fly for American. If they complete the carrier’s training program, this will allow them to fly for American after the flight. Existing exemptions from the 1,500 hour rule include pilots who have been trained by the U.S. military and for those who are enrolled in flight training programs over four years.
Family members of the victims have resisted this proposal. Colgan Air 3407The last American passenger airline fatality was the crash. All 49 passengers onboard and the one who was on ground died in this tragedy. It also prompted the introduction of the 1,500 hour rule to ensure pilot safety.
People familiar with Graham’s plans say that Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is contemplating introducing legislation in Congress to increase the age at which mandatory pilots retire to at least 65 from 65. According to the Regional Airline Association, about a third (31%) of all pilots who are qualified in flying commercial aircrafts live between 51 and 59. 13% will retire within five years.
Graham’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
SkyWestThe Transportation Department was informed by ANA that they plan to discontinue service in 29 small cities, which are subsidized by the Essential Air Service.
Although service reductions may isolate small U.S. towns, Darby, the consultant for pilot pay, stated that it might open up opportunities for regional competitors who don’t depend as heavily on major networks as they do on smaller cities.
He stated, “If they do not fly it then maybe a small airline will.”
Cost of education is an obstacle to pilots becoming more qualified. Although salaries for broadbody pilots in major airlines are high, it can take years to get qualified.
It costs almost $92,000 to obtain your initial licenses at ATP Flight School. This is the most expensive school in the nation. Pilots can take up to 18 months to accumulate enough flying hours. Many instructors help students pilots, and banner flying near beaches is another option.
Darby stated, “It is not a vehicle wash.” It’s not possible to get someone in the street.
United, a flight school in Goodyear, Arizona began to teach its first students on December 1, with the aim of training the next generation. 5,000 pilots there by 2030. United claims that half of this number will be women and people of color. United covers pilots’ training until they receive their private pilots’ license. It estimates that it costs around $17,000 per student.
Others have turned to loans at low interest rates or offered other programs to help students.
Darby stated, “There is no quick fix.”