Since before the coronavirus crisis, the USA has been struggling with a significant flight crew shortage. In the years to come, other regions will also experience a shortage of candidates for their cockpits. The world could see a pilot shortage as early as 2023.
How airlines plan to create a new generation of pilots amid fears of decade-long cockpit crisis
A pilot shortage was impending even before the coronavirus outbreak grounded American airlines in March 2020. The difficulty to retain enough cockpit pilots has grown into a serious issue that many travelers are currently experiencing in the form of canceled flights, even though air traffic has rebounded considerably stronger and earlier than anticipated – and major carriers are returning to profitability.
Carriers are fiercely bidding for the available pilots to help repair it. However, with a longer-term perspective in mind, airlines are expanding their training programs to previously unheard-of heights to recruit a younger and more diverse pool of future aviators.
Baby boomers, drones, and cost hit pilocost-hihrior to Covid, the demand for pilots was being met by the supply, but storm clouds were forming on several fronts. The mandatory retirement age of 65 for the baby boomer generation of pilots was quickly approaching. U.S. pilots were being drawn abroad by the airline industry’s fast expansion thanks to greater pay and benefits. Due to fewer deployments and the development of autonomous drones, the usual road for military pilots making the move to private carriers was slowing down. While this was going on, fewer people were choosing to become airline transport pilots (ATPs) due to the increasing expense (about $100,000) and time commitment (minimum 1,500 hours).
The pandemic then began. More than 90% fewer people wanted to fly, which caused airlines to unintentionally make the pilot shortage worse. They sweetened retirement agreements for thousands of veteran pilots to offset declining income and cut payroll costs. Others were given furloughs or simply quit their jobs.
The airlines then struggled to find enough pilots to meet demand as air travel recovered more quickly than anticipated and airlines increased market capacity, according to Jonathan Kletzel, leader of PwC’s airline and travel practice practice because of that.
Where the airlines are, about pilots, is uncharted territory.
According to a report published in August by the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman in New York, the sector in North America will be short 8,000 pilots this year, or approximately 11% of the entire workforce. By the end of the decade, that disparity is predicted to increase to more than 29,000 people.
Late in October, the company slightly lowered its shortage forecast, “a result of regional airlines dramatically reducing their 50-seat flying” by 50% in comparison to pre-Covid capacity, with more moderate decreases across the sector generally, according to Oliver Wyman aviation expert and co-author of its August report Geoff Murray. Regional airlines have historically served as a stepping stone for pilots of mainline airlines, giving them the necessary number of flying hours to advance.
However, as those regional airlines deteriorate, so do the pilot pipeline and airline passengers. According to Murray, “the pilot scarcity has somewhat subsided, albeit at the cost of lesser frequencies and fewer connection chances for travelers This past summer’s frustrating flight delays and cancellations were frequently attributed to a lack of pilots and other aviation personnel.
The fact that mainline carriers are stealing their pilots from regional airlines, particularly captains who can move right into the co-pilot seat of the cockpit and eventually transition to the left seat. Left seating) when they have the experience and seniority, is a major factor in the regional airlines’ struggles. An [big] airline hiring pilots from one of its non-affiliated regionals has very sometimes occurred, but Murray noted that this practice is practice common. “At the beginning of the year, it was more brutal, but now that regional flying is at lower heights, it’s become a little more peaceful.”
Regional economies and small cities suffer
A current effect of the pilot shortage is that many small and medium-sized communities served by the regional airlines are seeing their economies falter, according to Helene Becker, an aviation industry analyst at Cowen. This is even though airlines like United have long-term plans to increase service in smaller cities across the U.S. through advancements in low-cost electric planes. The regionals were operating 50-passenger jets into those regions, but since their pilots are being attracted to other opportunities, they have had to suspend operations. For the development of the local economy in such tiny places, Becker added, “it has significant ramifications.” She continued, referring more generally, “In my opinion, you need a vibrant aviation industry to have a robust economy.”
The bulk of commercial aviators is represented by the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), a union based in McLean, Virginia, which maintains the opposite, despite airline executives’ and executives experts’ agreement that there is a pilot shortage. In a paper titled in part “Debunking the Pilot Shortage Myth,” ALPA asserts that the United States “has generated more than enough certificated pilots to meet airline employment requests and compensate for retirements” using statistics from the federal government.
Although there isn’t a scarcity of pilots, the report continues, “there is a shortage of airline executives who are willing to stick by their business decisions to curtail air service and be honest about their intentions to circumvent safety laws and hire inexperienced staff for less pay.”
Instead, the ALPA sent links to the report and a news release with updated statistics instead of responding to CNBC’s requests for an interview or comments on the subject.
More women and minority pilots are needed
The airlines, whose pilots have typically been elderly, white, and male, know that they need to draw in more women and minorities to expand their pipeline. This wide-ranging outreach is reflected in their training programs. According to Nancy Hocking, director of the pilot and AMT development programs for JetBlue’s Gateways program, which collaborates with CAE and other flight schools as well as university aviation programs” breaking down barriers to access is truly the key for us going ahead.” Through its Select program, Gateways provides a variety of entry points to the flight deck for both external candidates and its internal flight attendants, mechanics, and other staff members.
Casting a larger net is key, according to Hocking. “We have done a fantastic job of widening our candidate pool. Women and members of underrepresented groups make up well over 50% of the membership of Select. The airline is promoting Gateways in high schools and middle schools in collaboration with the JetBlue Foundation, which focuses on STEM education for young people, she said.
How did the pilot shortage start?
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. Before 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 airline scheduling employees 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.
What are airlines doing to fix the pilot shortage?
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 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 America expand the program and hire more pilots, then? Not quickly enough. An estimated 12 months are needed to finish the program.