A number of proposals have been made to solve the pilot shortage in the USA, which has morphed from a concern about the future into very much a present problem, with mainstream airlines struggling to maintain some services and their regional counterparts forced to axe routes because they lack sufficient crew. These include easing the rule that requires most first officers to have at least 1,500 hours flying experience, and allowing more foreign pilots to take up jobs.
Another suggestion is to raise the mandated retirement age from 65 to allow veteran pilots to continue in the job. However, this – and lowering the minimum experience threshold – is opposed by pilots’ union the Air Line Pilots Association, which argues it would erode safety, and force older pilots on international routes onto the domestic market (because of an international age limit of 65), taking away jobs from younger pilots. It also casts doubt on the claim there is even a shortage.
The lifting of border restrictions and travel regulations throughout much of the world has been reflected in a rapid rebound of demand for flights, so much so that it has caused operational challenges for airlines and airports. However, in parts of the world, taking a flight, particularly internationally, is still an onerous task, requiring mask-wearing for long periods, proof of vaccine, Covid-19 testing, and even compulsory quarantine.
The zero-Covid policy pursued by China is well documented. However, while opening up their air routes, several Latin American and Caribbean countries remain nervous about removing restrictions completely. Airline trade group IATA this week warned these governments that they were holding back the recovery of their aviation sectors and wider economies. IATA says that, while Covid-19 remains rife in the region, cases of serious disease have declined because of widespread immunity.
The USA switched to a 5G cellular phone network in January. Now pilots of older commercial jets, including Boeing 717s and MD-11s must adopt new operating procedures because of hazards from the phone masts. Under an airworthiness directive, the Federal Aviation Administration says the signals can interfere with cockpit systems. Airlines with 717s in their fleet include Delta and Hawaiian. Boeing has issued operator bulletins in response.
They might end up as colleagues, but bosses at US carriers Spirit and JetBlue this week continued a war of words over the latter’s hostile takeover attempt. Spirit favours a merger with Frontier Airlines, and says being swallowed by JetBlue would not be in stockholders’ best interests. Chairman Mac Gardner insists JetBlue’s bid is unlikely to be approved and is causing a “long and bleak limbo period” until resolved. JetBlue accuses Spirit’s board of being “driven by conflicts of interest”.
Finally, could things get worse for Russia’s airlines? Banned from flying to much of Europe and North America, and facing a parts shortage as a result of the West’s sanctions policy, the country’s carriers have now been prevented from cashing in by selling their lucrative vacant slots at UK airports including London Heathrow. Boris Johnson’s government values the landing rights held by the likes of Aeroflot and Ural Airlines at around $62 million.
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