After experiencing one of the largest drops in travel in decades due to COVID-19, airline travel has rebounded and is taking off once again. That’s the good news. Now here’s the not-so-good news.
With so many pilots laid off due to the pandemic combined with early retirements, airlines are now finding it difficult to hire new employees quickly enough. They have gone from one challenge to another and are poised for their busiest year of pilot hiring in more than three decades.
Activity is Looking Up
Travel activity has returned quicker and with more volume than most industry professionals expected. In the US, domestic leisure travel has recovered to 2019 levels, while business travel is also bouncing back as reported by executives at Delta Airlines. Bookings on trans-Atlantic routes between Europe and the United States escalated sharply after the US announced it would reopen to fully vaccinated travelers from November 8th, 2021. In China, where the outbreak was earlier and better controlled, the in-service fleet is already at 99 percent. In the EU, the number of commercial flights increased by 48% compared with August 2020.
Accelerating Hiring Efforts
While the industry needs more new pilots than it has in decades, for many potential aviators a career in the industry no longer looks as secure as before. What’s more, government policies such as mandatory vaccinations for trainee pilots are keeping many candidates away from pursuing careers in aviation. In addition, it can take up to two years to train new pilots. Airlines are feeling the pinch. Some are even cutting regional routes because some of their partner airlines can’t find enough crew. As a result, both regional and major airlines are accelerating pilot hiring to match passenger demand.
For example, Regional airlines such as CommutAir are hiring ATP graduates with no HR interview required and providing a direct path to United Airlines through the Aviate program. American Airlines wants to hire 300 pilots by the end of this years and Spirit is looking at hiring 400 pilots. What’s more, Frontier Airlines has partnered with ATP to offer the Frontier Direct Program. Many airlines are reinforcing the hiring pipeline by investing in training programs, some are rethinking ways to improve crew productivity to reduce the total number of pilots required, and with the increased competition between airlines, some are activity engaging their current pilots to ensure retention.
A Long-term Challenge
The recent rise in demand for new pilots is just the beginning of a longer-term issue for airlines. Even before the pandemic, there were indications that a pilot shortage was imminent. According to Boeing Co., the world will need more than 600,000 new pilots in the next two decades, at which time airlines will take 43,600 new aircraft deliveries. The airlines that make the right moves now to increase and retain their pilot rosters will be competitively positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for airline travel in the days ahead.