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Airlines bracing for a wave of pilot retirements

Airlines bracing for a wave of pilot retirements
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Airlines — Although most countries are finally open for business after a protracted shutdown, US tourists will face a new challenge.

An industry group warned Congress on Wednesday that a “tsunami of pilot retirements” is on the way.

The collective decision will exacerbate the US pilot shortage, reduce passenger flight availability, and put upward pressure on pricing.

Pilot shortage

The president and CEO of the Regional Airline Association, Faye Malarkey Black, told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee:

“The pilot shortage has resulted in a collapse in air service.”

More than half of active pilots will reach the obligatory retirement age of 65 over the next 15 years, and there aren’t enough younger pilots to fill the void. 

Black stated that the chronic pilot shortage affects the whole country.

42 states now have less airline service than they did before the outbreak, and 136 airports have lost more than a fifth of their capacity.

Furthermore, airlines have suspended flights to 11 airports located in smaller cities that link to major airports.

More than 500 minor airline planes are parked because there aren’t enough pilots to fly them.

Flying vehicles are utilized approximately 40% less than in the past.

Despite record reservations at several airlines, most airlines have yet to restore the service cuts they made during the epidemic to full capacity.

Because of limited capacity and high demand, fares have risen above pre-pandemic levels.

Regional carriers

Faye Malarkey Black’s organization supports regional carriers that serve as feeders for major airlines such as:

  • American
  • Delta
  • United

While big airlines have pilot shortages, they have been hiring pilots from smaller carriers, which may cause issues for towns and customers that rely on them.

According to Black, big airlines will have employed more than 13,000 pilots by 2022, almost entirely from smaller carriers represented by RAA.

Last year, more pilots obtained their licenses at a faster rate, but 9,500 new entrants were unable to meet demand.

According to Black, the cost of training for new pilots might reach $80,000.

The expenditures would reach $200,000 when coupled with the cost of a bachelor’s degree.

According to Black, government financial aid is insufficient to provide poorer students with the opportunity to pursue a career as a pilot, stating:

“Unlike other career paths that require additional professional credentialing, such as lawyers, accredited pilot training programs can’t access traditional lending available through graduate aid programs to cover the higher costs.”

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According to Black, the need for pilots will only increase.

Less than 8% of the pilot workforce is under 30, and many are pursuing the pilot title as a second career.

“These pilots were long called to the career path but were only able to surmount the financial obstacles later in life after they built up their own savings and credit histories,” said Black.

However, the US airline pilots’ organization has asked Congress not to adjust pilot certification and training requirements in order to alleviate the pilot shortage.

Some argued that it would just provide a band-aid solution, jeopardizing safety.

The President of the Air Line Pilots Association, Jason Ambrosi, addressed his concerns before the House Transportation Subcommittee, telling them:

“This is no time to weaken safety standards.”

Following a series of airplane disasters, the regulations reduced passenger fatalities by 99.8%.

“This pilot training framework has also produced tens of thousands more pilots over the last decade than airlines needed,” he said.

Ambrosi further said that airlines are understaffed because they do not provide proper compensation and working conditions for pilots.

He also mentioned the pandemic management decision.

“The current labor market is complicated by pilots moving among carriers as they leave airlines that offer less attractive careers for those offering better pay and quality of life.”

Retirement age, diversity, and the pandemic

Jason Ambrosi also pushed back on suggestions for raising the retirement age for pilots.

He reasoned that raising the limit to 65 would merely cause airlines scheduling problems.

Senior airline pilots usually fly international routes, however there is an age restriction of 65 under international laws.

When asked about other pilot professions that allow pilots to work until the age of 70, Ambrosi stated he didn’t represent such employees.

The panel also addressed the lack of diversity among pilots, with the majority being white males.

They also looked for solutions to the problem because it may lead to pilot shortages.

Many people admitted that a pilot shortage existed before the epidemic.

The airlines got billions of dollars in public money during the epidemic, on the condition that they not lay off employees and that the scarcity did not grow.

To save money, several airlines provided buyouts and early retirement packages.