While air travel demand continues to soar, a growing pilot shortage will force airlines to ground flights during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.
Since 2019, airlines have seen a 4% decline in pilot numbers. Major airlines like JetBlue and Spirit have already cut 5% to 10% of their summer schedules to focus on recruiting as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 14,500 pilots need to be hired every year for the next decade in order to keep up with the shortage.
To attract more commercial airline pilots, some companies are even looking at offering higher wages to win over potential staff.
United CEO’s Scott Kirby said in part that this year, the industry’s intent is to hire 13,000 pilots and even more next year.
He went on to say that there are only 5 to 7,000 available, and he doesn’t believe the plan to hire vast amounts of pilots will be attainable in the next five years.
A captain for American Airlines tells FOX 5 despite billions of dollars invested into the airline industry during the pandemic, they’re not ready for the recovery.
"Every pilot union at every airline is talking about how far they’re being pushed right to the edge," said Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for Allied Pilots Association. "When you’re flying an airplane at 35,000 feet at near the speed of sound, there’s no margin for error or fatigued pilots, and we’re going to make sure that bridge does not get crossed. But we’re human and we have our limits and the first thing that goes when you’re tired is your judgment."
Tajer also touched on the education and financial requirements of becoming a pilot.
He says many new hires don’t have the pathway to get experience to fly commercially and while some airlines offer loans for new pilots, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make that career jump.
That’s why he says representatives from the federal government, airlines, pilot unions, and lobbyist groups need to sit down and come together to find a long-term solution to hiring more pilots in the future.
"They’re cutting corners, they’re outsourcing, they’re taking on some very serious actions that we’re concerned might affect the quality of training for our pilots, our new pilots, and current pilots," Tajer said.
FOX 5 reached out to several major airlines to ask them about their pilot training pipeline.
Southwest Airlines said in a statement they are not experiencing a shortage of pilots, and they plan to hire a thousand more this year.
United Airlines said they plan to hire 2,000 pilots in 2022 and 10,000 in total by the end of the decade.
American Airlines in their first-quarter earnings call said they’ve hired 600 new pilots, and they have trainers and simulators coming in to train new hires.
The Airline Pilots Association also said there are more than enough pilots to meet the U.S. airline demand.
FOX 5 asked Tajer about the thought of bringing back retired pilots, who must do so by the age of 65, and the possibility of automation.
He says he doesn’t think that’s a good idea due to cognitive concerns for older pilots, and while technology is helpful, you don’t have the human capability to make judgment calls in the air.
As far as this summer, Tajer says be prepared to make changes and don’t be surprised if your flight gets canceled due to scheduling problems.