A rare sighting in the aviation industry in the last year is becoming more common: Help Wanted Signs.
Several US airlines have recently resumed hiring pilots or are planning to do so this year. This is the latest sign that the industry expects the demand for travel to continue to grow.
Prior to the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, airlines were preparing for a wave of pilot retirements that will be required by the federal government when pilots turn 65. At American Airlines, for example, more than 7,200 of the airline’s 15,000+ pilots will be 65 years old by the next decade. However, last year’s slump forced them to cut labor costs, including offering early retirement packages for pilots.
Now that the demand for travel is returning, they are focusing again on hiring people. Training pilots can be time consuming and costly. So airlines plan years in advance so that they usually have enough pilots to handle the upcoming high season summer seasons.
United told staff last week that it plans to resume hiring pilots, starting with around 300 pilots who had a new hire date or a conditional job offer when Covid-19 derailed those plans last year.
It also said it plans to train the first class in its flight school this year, with the goal of training 5,000 of the 10,000 pilots it is expected to need over the next decade.
JetBlue Airways, meanwhile, announced in a message to 200 candidate pilots interviewing the New York airline in 2019 and 2020 that the airline is taking steps to hire new pilots later this year.
Budget airline Spirit Airlines resumed training 24 new pilots last month and plans to train a similar number in April, a spokesman said. Another ultra-low-cost airline, Allegiant Air, said Tuesday it would open a new base in Austin, Texas and “immediately start hiring pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and ground crews to support operations”.
American Airlines-owned regional carrier PSA Airlines has opened its hiring to outside candidates.
“The need for adjustment is due to natural wear and tear and increased utilization of our fleet of CRJ 700 and CRJ 900 aircraft this year,” said a spokeswoman.
And Avelo Airlines, a new U.S. airline that debuted Thursday, said it will open with 37 pilots but could add more as it expands.
Demand for air travel has improved since the depths of the pandemic a year ago. Scott Kirby, United Airlines CEO, said last week domestic leisure demand had recovered almost entirely, while American Airlines said net bookings for the week ending March 26 were only 10% lower compared to the same period in 2019.
Airlines are generally reluctant to take pilots on vacation because their training takes so long, and they turned to voluntary separation, temporary vacation, or early retirement programs instead. However, the airlines also received three rounds of government aid totaling $ 54 billion that prohibited the involuntary downsizing. The first round took place at the beginning of the pandemic.
The ranks of airline pilots are based on seniority, and cuts would start with the youngest members. Airline executives claimed the aid enabled them to be better prepared to benefit from a recovery.
Helane Becker, airline analyst at Cowen & Co., said the demand for travel has increased faster and more strongly than expected.
If they hadn’t kept these employees, the airlines would have “been very poorly prepared and the recovery would have taken longer”.
Without the early help, the airlines would likely have put many junior pilots on leave before the impending wave of retirement of their most experienced pilots.
For some airlines, the recent recovery in air travel demand has changed plans. Delta Air Lines said it made about 100 cancellations on Easter Sunday due to staff shortages, an issue Thanksgiving was facing.
Delta said it temporarily lifted capacity restrictions on some flights to accommodate travelers, a move it hadn’t planned until next month. Some pilots were asked if they could pick up last minute shifts over the weekend.
Delta announced earlier this year that it would restore all pilots to active status. Earlier this month, the airline announced that it would allow pilots to bid for new positions, some of which will be promoted to captains or switch planes.
Delta expects the job posting “closes with approximately 350 unpublished positions, creating opportunities for future recruitment,” wrote Bob Schmelzer, Delta’s director of crew resources planning, analytics and reporting, in an April 1st employee log.
Southwest Airlines called back 209 pilots from longer departure times on April 1 to meet rising demand. You will be active again on June 1st after completing the requalification training.