Pilot flying a plane. (Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sunshine Seeds)
In what is expected to be a heavy summer travel season after two years of the pandemic, airlines are facing yet another crisis just as a sense of normalcy was starting to pervade the industry.
The worldwide airline pilot shortage is so severe that it could take years to overcome, forcing carriers to resort to alternative – sometimes drastic – measures to combat the deficit.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years,” Scott Kirby, chief executive officer of United Airlines Holdings Inc. said earlier this week on a conference call according to Bloomberg News.
Simply put, what the airlines had hoped for in terms of demand rebounding to pre-pandemic levels is about to come to fruition – but they won’t have the supply to meet the demand.
Now carriers are doing everything they can to avoid a wholesale loss on a potentially lucrative summer travel season, but the odds seem stacked against them. To wit:
– Airlines have stepped up their training programs, with several opening their own pilot training academies. But this is not a process that can be rushed no matter how many applicants sign up, negating the more immediate need.
– Many carriers have already announced they are trimming and cutting back on their respective summer flight schedules.
– Fuel prices remain in flux, and the cost is being passed on to consumers – some of whom are simply opting not to fly.
– British Airways last week actually told baggage handlers not to immediately unload luggage from short-haul flights in order to focus on long-haul flights and keeping on schedule. Instead, the airline told customers it would send bags to their respective destinations “in a few days” after their arrival.
– Regional airlines are getting pounded. Normally a great way to get from secondary market to secondary market, or from secondary market to a major hub, regional airline pilots have been pilfered by the major carriers. Thus, less flights. “We don’t have the regional aircraft flying the summer right now [that] we would like,” American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said on CNBC this week.”
– And, in one of the more innovative, yet still drastic, measures, some airlines have entered into contract agreements with bus companies to shuttle passengers flying out of smaller markets to connect at a major airport. American, for instance, is using a motorcoach to ferry passengers from small airports in Atlantic City, N.J. and Allentown, Pa., to Philadelphia International Airport instead of taking a puddle-jumper.