May 2, 2022 - News

Pilot shortage will likely mean higher prices, more canceled flights

A pilot picketing outside an airport
American Airlines pilots in Miami have picketed outside the airport, just like they did at DFW earlier this year. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As airlines predict the most profitable summer ever, a massive pilot shortage could mean higher prices and more cancellations for customers.

Why it matters: The U.S. will lose about half of its pilots to retirement in the next 15 years, according to ABC News. Fort Worth-based American Airlines expects more than one third of its 15,000 pilots to retire in the next seven years.

  • Fewer pilots will mean fewer flights, which will likely lead to pricing spikes.

What's happening: Thousands of pilots chose early retirement at the beginning of the pandemic. The FAA also requires commercial pilots to retire at age 65. The major airlines are also struggling with a shortfall of flight instructors.

Between the lines: Pilots are also tired. The pilots union for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines recently told the company's executives that "Fatigue, both acute and cumulative, has become Southwest Airlines' number-one safety threat."

  • American Airlines pilots have picketed at several airports across the country.

Context: Pilots unions for both American and Southwest are negotiating new contracts.

  • The American Airlines pilots union recently sued the airline over its new pilot-training plan.

Details: Regional airlines will be hit the hardest by the pilot shortage. American Airlines is busing some customers from smaller airports to larger hubs.

What they're saying: "The airlines are underwater and trying to breathe through a straw," American 737 captain and union spokesperson Dennis Tajer told ABC. "Airlines are poaching each other's pilots. It's stunning the level of aggression."

The other side: "I'm confident that the quality of life and the compensation for pilots is going to attract people to the industry," American Airlines CEO Robert Isom, who took charge at the end of March, said on a recent earnings call. "It may take some time to work through, but it will happen."

  • A Southwest spokesperson tells Axios that the airline "appreciates being an employer of choice for pilots," and that the company "received approximately 3,000 applications for the 120 first officer positions hired in 2021."

The bottom line: If you're thinking about becoming a pilot, you have a pretty good chance of getting a job.

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