Apr 21, 2021 - Economy & Business

Airlines plot pilot comeback with hirings

An array of pilot caps against a yellow background
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Airlines are readying more pilots for a blowout bounce-back in demand.

Why it matters: The companies were clobbered by the pandemic. Now they're racing to make sure they're ready for a flying boom.

  • American Airlines says it will hire 300 additional pilots by year-end — the first time it's resumed hiring since the pandemic.
  • United is restarting the hiring process for 300 pilots who had job offers and training plans waylaid by the pandemic.
  • Southwest last week said it would bring back almost 400 more pilots from voluntary leave "ahead of the planned flight increase in the summer schedule."

Details: In some cases, furloughed pilots who were brought back after the government's airline payroll support programs weren't flying, though they were being paid.

  • To fly again, pilots need retraining, which takes time.
  • American says all of its pilots will return to flying status by the end of the summer.

What to watch: Whether enough pilots will be trained in time to meet demand. Airline CEOs have been upbeat about domestic travel rebounding in earnings calls this week.

  • Delta recently canceled flights in part because so many pilots retired during the pandemic and there was a backlog of others returning to active status.

What they're saying: "The speed of this recovery based on the forward bookings they are seeing is much stronger than they even thought they planned for," says Dennis Tajer, a pilot and spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association union.

  • "It's unfortunate because it's a possible sign they may not be ready for the recovery in full measure."
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