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Coronavirus Complications May Exacerbate Pilot Shortage

When aviators were grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, many chose to retire or find employment in other sectors. Now that the industry is starting to see early signs of recovery, there may not be enough pilots available to operate commercial aircraft.

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated airlines’ balance books, forcing them to ask employees to take voluntary leave or retire. With less captains and first officers on the market, will airlines be able to bring all of their aircraft in service? Bloomberg reports the industry’s pilot shortage could get even bigger in the coming years.

Newer Aircraft Require More Pilots, But Less Workers Lined Up for Training

As airlines debut newer aircraft with longer ranges, more pilots are required to fly them to destinations around the world. Because it can take up to two years to train a flight crew, airlines are required to have a healthy talent pipeline to keep flights running smoothly.

However, the global pandemic created an incredible amount of turmoil, forcing carriers to take drastic moves to survive. Many offered pilots early retirement packages to cut them from the payroll, while others took voluntary leave packages. Combined with other challenges – including COVID-19 vaccination requirements for new trainees and employees – it is getting difficult to attract new pilots to join airlines.

“Airlines are going to continue to buy, modernize their fleets, and as they do that, they are going to require pilots,” Bhanu Choudhire, chief executive of pilot training company Alpha Aviation Group, told Bloomberg. “The market is getting interesting again and we’re starting to see that upward trend, we’re starting to see airlines come to us and say — look this is my delivery schedule, can you have pilots ready for me in two years’ time?”

In 2016, Airbus predicted over 30,000 new airframes would be delivered to airlines over the next 20 years. Two years later, Boeing estimated there would be a shortage of 635,000 pilots by 2037. Unless there is a new rush of talent, airlines could be forced to get creative to attract talent.

Airlines and Unions Working Hard to Attract Talent

While the aviation industry is not predicting a full recovery until 2022 and beyond, airlines are still working hard to bring back workers in anticipation. American Airlines is recalling all of their employees in time for the 2021 holiday season, while American-owned subsidiary Piedmont Airlines is offering up to $180,000 in recruitment and retention packages.

windskisong September 29, 2021

Meanwhile, United is telling their employees to follow their diktats or be fired while they are still short-handed. Oops. Sounds like United management has painted themselves into a corner. I'm sure they'll be happy to ask for yet another bailout to cover their shortfall. After their last disastrous move of declaring they'll train by quota... Sounds like they need to do a wholesale changeout of upper management.