US Pilot Shortage Puts Pressure on Airline Operation

A shortage of pilots in the US is limiting the number of flights that airlines can operate causing delays and cancellations during peak travel periods. Several major airlines are now partnering with flight schools or starting their own training programs to create a more diverse team of future pilots. Airlines have complained about a shortage for several years. Made worse during the pandemic when pilots were encouraged to take early retirement as air travel collapsed in 2020. 

Airlines have been in a hiring frenzy ever since and that is likely to continue for several years as the carriers replace pilots who reach the US federal mandatory retirement age of 65.

Several US airlines have started their own training programs or partnered with flight schools to ensure a pipeline of future pilots that would be more diverse as fewer than four percent of current airline pilots are African-American and fewer than five percent are women.

The lack of pilots contributed to a 52 percent increase in flight cancellations in the US last year compared with 2021. The shortage is giving pilot unions leverage in contract negotiations that were paused by the onset of the pandemic. New contracts are certain to include hefty pay raises that will drive up costs for airlines.

Over the past decade or two, industry officials warned that a pilot shortage was coming as travel boomed and thousands of US pilots approached mandatory retirement age.

If a pilot calls in sick often there is no one immediately available to replace them and that is leaving tens of thousands of travelers stranded. The US Government estimates that there will be about 18 thousand openings for airline and commercial pilots per year this decade with many of those replacing retirees.