Airlines in the U.S. to Increase Pilot Hiring

Mainline air-carriers in the U.S. are expected to increase their pilot hiring during the second half of 2012, even as some plan capacity cuts according to Flightglobal.com.

Delta Air Lines, which plans to cut capacity by about 1% this year compared to 2011, is understood to need additional crews to replace retirees and to fly 88 Boeing 717-200s they will receive from Southwest Airlines beginning in 2013, according to sources.

Alaska Airlines and US Airways, which are the only two mainline carriers that will increase capacity this year, plan to hire pilots for their 2013 flying needs, say the airlines. They anticipate that capacity will increase by 6% and 2%, respectively, this year.

“Industry-wide, hiring needs are a function of projected retirement and contract productivity trends,” says Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst at RW Mann & Company. That is exactly what is happening – a large number of pilots are beginning to come up against the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) mandatory retirement age of 65, and new labor contracts are either being negotiated or implemented at American, Delta and United.

Delta completed a new three-and-a-half-year contract with its pilots in June where it agreed to lease the 717s in exchange for more large regional jets and fewer 50-seat jets at its regional partners. The new aircraft coupled with retirements could prompt pilot hiring to begin in the fourth quarter though the number of positions is not yet clear, say sources.

Alaska has 34 pilot positions out of 78 it still needs to fill this year and about 118 next year, says Will McQuillen, membership committee chairman for ALPA’s Alaska master executive council and a first officer at the carrier. He says that the airline has continued to hire during the past few years with the incoming pilots this year coming from applications that it received in 2011.

US Airways plans to hire additional pilots this year for 2013, says the Tempe, Arizona-based airline. It attributes the need to an increased number of retirements due to the FAA’s mandatory retirement age.
Boeing estimates that airlines in North America need 69,000 new pilots by 2031, in its latest long-term market outlook released in July.