Pilot Shortages Continue to Cause Significant U.S. Flight Disruptions

Airline passengers this summer can continue to expect record flight cancellations as the aviation industry wages its battle against one of the largest pilot shortages to date. 

Where the crisis has stemmed from

Airlines in the United States have struggled to meet demand that is considered high by pre-pandemic standards for a variety of reasons but the pilot shortage continues to prove to be the most critical piece to the crisis. Airlines need pilots to fill slots and meet extreme demand but the COVID-19 that caused unseen pilot furloughs is the same COVID-19 that exacerbated financial hardships for many Americans making it harder than ever to get into the field and obtain the ratings needed to fly commercial aircraft for a living. 

When the pandemic began, airlines scrambled to find ways to cut losses and many did so by laying off thousands of younger pilots and offering early retirement to its more senior crews. What has become clear is that airlines failed to recognize that the pipeline of pilots coming through the regional airlines would soon begin to move very slowly.

The Colgan Air crash that happened in 2009 in Buffalo prompted congress to raise the minimum flight hours to 1,500 for those interested in a position at a regional airline. This made getting into the career far more costly to meet such lofty hours requirements that many aspiring pilots completely gave up on the dream. 

Now with airlines scrambling to find pilots, some regional airlines are looking to the government to lower the required hours needed. Republic Airways, regional provider for Delta, American and United, recently petitioned leaders to cut training requirements in half to 750 hours and have pilots complete its version of the restricted ATP license.

The airline said in a letter to the Department of Transportation: ​​“The requested exemption would allow selected civilian pilots who complete the rigorous Republic R-ATP program to apply for an airline transport pilot certificate concurrently with a multiengine airplane type rating with a minimum of 750 hours of total flight time as a pilot.” Republic Airways knows that a reduced minimum would lead to a jump in job applications and major airlines would benefit shortly after as pilots flow through. 

The way out for U.S. airlines

With the summer already here, it is likely that many carriers will continue to cancel flights in droves as pilots remain scarce. The spring season has already been a rough one for airlines like Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines who have both seen their fair share of cancellations. Others have faced equipment shortages in addition to a lack of pilots. Cutting schedules is likely the best way to avoid significant flight cancellations and maintain a strong passenger experience as the summer season goes on.

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