As Americans resume travel, airlines re-launch plans to recruit pilots

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A rare sighting in the aviation industry over the past year is increasingly common: Help panels wanted.

Several U.S. airlines have recently resumed hiring pilots or are planning to do so this year, the latest sign the industry expects travel demand to continue to rise.

Before the pandemic hit, airlines were bracing for a wave of pilot retirements, who are federally mandated when pilots turn 65. the next decade. But last year’s drop in travel forced them to cut labor costs, which included offering pilots early retirement packages.

Now that travel demand is back, they are once again focusing on hiring. Pilot training can be time consuming and expensive. Airlines therefore plan years in advance, usually to have enough pilots to handle the peak summer seasons to come.

United last week announced to staff their intention to resume hiring of pilots, starting with some 300 pilots who had a re-hire date or conditional job offer when Covid-19 derailed those plans the year last.

He also said he plans to start training First Class at his flight school this year, aiming to train 5,000 pilots out of the 10,000 he expects to need over the next decade.

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JetBlue Airways, meanwhile, said in a message to 200 candidate pilots who spoke to the New York airline in 2019 and 2020 that the carrier is taking steps to start hiring new pilots later this year.

Low-budget carrier Spirit Airlines resumed training of 24 new pilots last month and plans to train a similar number in April, a spokesperson said. Another ultra-low cost airline, Allegiant Air, on Tuesday announced it would be opening a new base in Austin, Texas, said it “would immediately begin hiring pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and crew. ground personnel to support operations “.

The regional airline PSA Airlines belonging to American Airlines has opened its recruitment to external candidates.

“The rental needs are due to natural attrition and greater use of our fleet of CRJ 700 and CRJ 900 aircraft this year,” said a spokesperson.

And Avelo Airlines, a new U.S. carrier that debuted on Thursday, said it will start operating with 37 pilots, but may add more as it expands.

Demand for air travel has improved from the depths of the pandemic a year ago. Last week, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said domestic demand for leisure had almost fully recovered, while American Airlines said net bookings for the week ended March 26 were only by 10% compared to the same period of 2019.

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Airlines are generally reluctant to accept pilots on leave because their training takes too long and have instead turned to voluntary separation, temporary leave or early retirement programs. But carriers also received three rounds of government aid totaling $ 54 billion that prohibited involuntary job cuts, the first of which came at the start of the pandemic.

Airline pilot ranks are based on seniority and reductions would start with younger members. Airlines executives argued that the aid made them better prepared to capitalize on a recovery.

Helane Becker, airline analyst at Cowen & Co., said travel demand has rebounded faster and more vigorously than expected.

If they had not kept these employees, the airlines “would have been very ill prepared and the takeover would have taken longer.”

Without the help early on, airlines would likely have laid off a large number of junior pilots before the next wave of their more experienced retirements.

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For some carriers, the recent upturn in demand for air travel has resulted in a change of plans. Delta Air Lines said it had about 100 cancellations on Easter Sunday due to understaffing, an issue it faced during Thanksgiving.

Delta said it briefly removed capacity limits on some flights to accommodate travelers, a step it did not plan to take until next month. Some pilots were asked if they could take last minute shifts over the weekend.

Delta announced earlier this year its intention to recall all of its pilots to active status. Earlier this month, Delta said it would allow pilots to bid on new positions, with some becoming captains or changing planes.

Delta plans to close the tender “with approximately 350 vacant positions, creating opportunities for future hires,” wrote Bob Schmelzer, director of crew resource planning, analysis and reporting at Delta, in an April 1 staff memo.

Southwest Airlines, on April 1, recalled 209 pilots on extended leave to meet increased demand. They will return to their active status on June 1 after completing the requalification training.

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