Airline-Pilot Shortage Arrives Ahead of Schedule

The Wall Street Journal contains an insightful article about the shortage of Airline Pilots that is beginning to severely handicap the airline industry. The article is sub-titled “Pilot Retirements and New Rules on Training and Rest Hurt More Than Expected”, and when I read it I was happy to see that the national media is calling the nation’s attention to this serious issue that we have been writing about here for the last three years.

The WSJ article has some great observations that I want to share with you:

“A shortage of qualified pilots has hit U.S. airlines sooner and more severely than expected, leading the airlines to accelerate hiring and cut some service.

The shortage flows from both a long-anticipated wave of pilot retirements and recently enacted rules that require an increase in training for new pilots and more rest for existing aviators at passenger airlines.

The problems are evident in recent announcements from two U.S. airlines at opposite ends of the spectrum. Great Lakes Aviation Ltd. , a 32-year-old carrier based in Cheyenne, Wyo., says it suspended flights to six small cities in the Upper Midwest on Saturday “due to the severe industrywide pilot shortage and its relative acute impact.”

Meanwhile, United Continental Holdings Inc. said Saturday that it plans to cut 60% of its flights from its Cleveland hub by June. United also said regional-airline partners “are beginning to have difficulty flying their schedules due to reduced new-pilot availability.” The shortage has forced United “to reduce [regional-airline] flying in our most unprofitable markets, which unfortunately are out of Cleveland,” Chief Executive Jeff Smisek said in an employee memo.

Neil Roghair, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 8,800 American Airlines pilots, estimates that half of American’s pilots will leave the company in the next eight to 10 years. The union expects 25 pilots to retire each month by 2018 and 60 to 70 to retire each month in the early part of the next decade. “We’ll have to hire 100 pilots a month to keep up,” said Mr. Roghair. American and US Airways merged in December to form American Airlines Group Inc. The average American pilot is 53 years old, and US Airways pilots are a similar age.

American has said it expects to need to hire 1,500 new pilots over the next five years to make up for retirements, training demands and its fleet renewal. A spokesman said the airline received 10,000 applications for those jobs in just six weeks, including 1,000 from its own regional partner, highlighting how easy it is for the major airlines to poach pilots.

The pilot shortage isn’t restricted to the U.S. airline industry. The U.S. Air Force said it projects it will have a shortage of 400 fighter pilots within three years. Last year, the Air Force boosted fighter-pilot salaries to try to attract more pilots, and it may consider a similar program this year, a spokeswoman said.”

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