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Airlines Struggle to Keep Up With Pilot Shortage

U.S. airlines are facing a pilot shortage that is making it difficult to increase the number of flights. The industry needs to hire an average of 14,500 new pilots each year until 2030, but carriers say they cannot bring on that many new pilots due to the time it takes for flight training. Worse, experts say the staffing bottleneck is unlikely to end anytime soon.

 

Scott Kirby, chief executive officer of United Airlines Holdings Inc., said earlier this week that the pilot shortage will likely force United States to keep 150 regional planes parked despite increased domestic travel demand.

 

The issue of a lack of pilots available to work for airlines is not new, but the problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thousands of pilots accepted buyouts or retired early when federal aid to avoid furloughs failed to cover all the airlines’ labor costs, especially for veteran pilots earning six-figure salaries. As a result, two years later, airlines are still unable to find enough qualified crews to fully reinstate their route maps.

 

Airlines have scaled back plans for a rapid resumption of pre-pandemic flight schedules. United expects flying this quarter to be down 13% from 2019, while Delta Air Lines Inc. projects a 16% decline, American Airlines Group Inc. as much as 8% and Alaska Air, about 9%. JetBlue Airways Corp. is trimming 10% of its planned summer flights.

 

The problem is most acute at regional airlines, where pilot ranks have been depleted by hiring at larger carriers. “This is a fantastic opportunity for people that want to come in and fly planes. They can make a lot of money.” Regional airlines play a critical role in ferrying passengers from smaller markets to hub airports where they board flights operated by larger partners. These workhorses of the industry have capacity purchase agreements binding them to one or more primary airlines such as American or Delta, which control scheduling, pricing and ticketing.

 

The Regional Airline Association’s Faye Malarkey Black believes that the current lack of air travel is worse than it was after 9/11 and that things are likely to get worse before they get better.

 

United and America have contracted with Landline Co., a Fort Collins, Colorado-based startup, to ferry passengers and their bags by motorcoach on some shorter routes, allowing them to sell destinations where they don’t fly.

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