Prior to the current shortage, there has always been a pilot shortage. Before the epidemic, more than three years ago, industry experts expected a record number of passengers and a demand for more aircraft and pilots over the following 20 years.
The pandemic followed. Airlines parked hundreds of aircraft during worldwide lockdowns.
Massive sums of federal funding were also given to the main American airlines, with the explicit condition that they must adhere to their schedule and cannot lay off or furlough any workers.
However, the airlines were scrambling to save their money.
They could offer all staff very enticing early retirement and buyout deals, but they couldn’t fire anyone until the aid ran out.
According to the International Air Transport Association, the airlines initially anticipated that 4% of the staff would take the offers and depart, but twice that number actually did.
According to information released by Delta in August 2020, 17,000 workers, or 20% of the company’s workforce, chose buyout agreements or early retirement.
How did the lack of pilots begin?
Then, two events almost happened simultaneously.
In 2021, some airline traffic resumed, primarily from leisure visitors.
The spike in traffic led airline schedulers to assume that everyone was suddenly eager to board a trip, frequently to a new location.
The new route frenzy then started. Prior to the epidemic, Southwest Airlines would regularly announce one new route in a successful year.
Southwest, though, announced more than a dozen for 2021 and 2022. Aside from them, JetBlue also announced 29 new routes.
There were two issues: the scheduling employees for the airlines didn’t communicate with the operational staff.
As a result, many airlines found themselves suddenly massively overbooked and equally dramatically understaffed, necessitating flight cancellations.
And the shortages weren’t merely a result of the early staff buyouts. It was the dwindling pilot training stream in addition to the retirement of aged baby boomers.
Why are airlines unable to just hire more pilots?
In the past, airlines primarily hired pilots from the armed forces.
Moving from a military aircraft to the cockpit of a commercial aircraft didn’t require as much learning.
However, that method of hiring has significantly slowed during the past 20 years.
Many of the Air Force’s “pilots” had no formal flight training. They were receiving training to pilot drones as expert gamers.
Additionally, the military as a whole lacks enough pilots. According to a Department of Defense report from 2019, the Air Force has experienced shortages since 2006, and the service reported that it was short more than 1,500 pilots by the end of 2016.
According to written testimony provided to Congress in 2020, it has a shortfall of 2,100 pilots by the conclusion of the 2019 fiscal year.
For years, the military has likewise struggled to fulfill its own objectives for training new pilots.
There is no easy solution.
You cannot simply hire someone, have them test drive the vehicle, and have them sit in the left seat.
A bachelor’s degree is typically required for aspiring pilots, along with training from an FAA-approved program.
Next, they must pass written and practical exams to obtain their private pilot’s license, which is followed by an instrument rating.
The FAA demands 250 total flight hours for commercial pilot certification, however particular airlines may require 1,000 or 2,000.
According to calculations done by United CEO Scott Kirby, there won’t be enough pilots over the next five years.
Government data appear to support this.
FAA has been granting roughly 6,500 pilot licenses annually during the past few of years.
However, one official prediction predicts a shortage of more than 18,000 pilots year for the following ten years.
The aircraft that many of them are flying is another factor contributing to the current pilot shortage.
American Airlines recently parked 100 of its fleet. The airline was forced to acknowledge that it lacked the pilots to fly them.
However, the 50-seat regional airplanes that were grounded are no longer profitable for the airline to fly.
Each plane would need to be roughly 90% full on every voyage to just about break even due to the rise in jet fuel prices and recent increases in pilot pay.
How are airlines addressing the problem of a lack of pilots?
United Airlines’ new flying school in Arizona, United Aviate Academy, opened its doors to its first students last year.
The airline declared last year that it will invest $100 million in Denver to expand a different pilot training facility.
American claims to be employing 2,000 pilots this year, but this is well short of what the airline actually requires.
Additionally, American Airlines revealed that it would establish a $1 million pilot scholarship fund to assist two students annually in paying for their training at the American Airlines Cadet Academy.
The 10-year agreement aims to increase diversity among pilot ranks. Each year, $50,000 will be given to two candidates to help cover the costs.
However, getting a commercial pilot’s license can frequently cost around $100,000.
How quickly can American expand the program and hire more pilots, then?
Not quickly enough. An estimated 12 months are needed to finish the program.
The pilot shortage won’t be resolved anytime soon, to sum it up.