Grabbing a flight this summer is becoming more difficult. American Airlines is the latest major air carrier to suffer from a nationwide pilot shortage.
Nearly 100 airplanes are sitting right now because there is no one to fly them. Most of the planes are operated by regional carriers Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines (both owned by American). The jets are mainly low-capacity Embraer 145 planes with seating for 50 passengers.
“There is a supply and demand imbalance right now, and it really is within the regional carrier ranks,” says American Airlines CEO Robert Isom.
In an attempt to limit decreasing capacity because of the grounding, American Airlines is shifting those routes to larger aircraft. This will allow the airline to fly the same amount of people with fewer pilots.
American Airlines is not the only airline suffering from a pilot shortage. The problem is twofold: some pilots took lucrative buyout packages during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; other pilots are forced to retire due to age requirements.
The shortage is leading to route and schedule cuts across all major U.S. airlines. For example, JetBlue is already announcing reduced routes during the busy summer travel season due to staffing issues. Delta Airlines is doing the same in an effort to reduce travel delays and disruptions. Some Southwest Airlines pilots recently cited pilot fatigue as an issue, as pilots log longer hours to keep up with traveler demand.
To reverse the shortage, airlines are offering incentives to lure more pilots to the cockpit. American Airlines plans to hire 2,000 pilots in 2022, largely from regional carriers. Bigger airlines can offer better pay and better schedules than smaller regional carriers. United Airlines is expanding its flight training facility to accommodate more pilots in the next decade.
The plane grounding and pilot shortage comes in the midst of a busy summer travel season. Travel industry experts still expect a high volume of traffic over the summer months, despite higher fares. Those fare hikes are due to increased gas prices and decreased supply of airline routes. The decision to drop the mask mandate on-board airplanes and the easing of COVID-19-related travel restrictions, both domestic and abroad, are increasing passenger demand for travel.
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