Airlines, training schools look for pilot-shortage solutions

Photo of ATP Flight School from website.

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  • Industry analysts say airlines will hire 12,000 pilots this year, 8,000 in 2023 and 6,000 more in 2024.
  • The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) union insists there is not a pilot shortage, while CEOs of major airlines say there is.

Major U.S. airlines and the training programs that provide them pilots are grappling with how to handle the worst pilot-shortage in decades, which has escalated since the COVID-19 pandemic hit over two years ago.

ATP Flight School — the largest flight training company in the United States, is operating satellite training centers in Cary and Concord, North Carolina. ATP is using its various training programs in order to alleviate and ultimately prevent pilot shortages. Michael Arnold, director of marketing for ATP, told CJ that several factors have contributed to the current shortage of pilots.

“Regulatory changes, aging workforce, increased travel demand, and early retirements during the pandemic have created an unprecedented shortage of airline pilots,” Arnold said. “It’s projected that over the next decade, there will be 14,000 pilot job openings each year and over the next 20 years, 208,000 pilots will be needed in North America.”

According to Arnold, ATP is helping to address the shortage in a number of ways without sacrificing training and safety.

“ATP is expanding training capacity and working with airline partners to offer financial incentives and accelerated pathways,” he said. “In the last 12 months, we’ve opened three brand-new airline pilot training centers and increased enrollments by almost 50% (2,500). This year alone, we’re taking delivery of 40 new aircraft and 20 simulators so we can continue towards our goal of training 20,000 airline pilots by 2030.”

Brian Metham, a spokesman for American Airlines, told CJ that the airline is mobilizing a strategy to combat this lack of pilots and remains optimistic about its growth in 2022. American Airlines has a major hub at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

“We have noted that we have 100 regional aircraft on the ground that we want to fly but can’t due to lack of regional pilots,” Metham said. “Like many network carriers, American has reduced our regional flying in recent months in response to the regional pilot shortage. That shortage could loom for some time, so we are taking bold, innovative steps to address the issue head-on. American’s three wholly owned regional carriers (Envoy Air, PSA Airlines and Piedmont Airlines) recently announced agreements to ensure American Eagle (American’s regional network) is able to operate a more reliable regional schedule in the future.”

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom recently spoke about the airline’s regional pilot supply at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in June of this year.

“Our main focus areas are two things: to run a really reliable airline and return to profitability. We can actually look at Q2 confident that American is in a position to react quickly to whatever comes our way,” he said. “We haven’t changed any guidance in terms of capacity for the year. We know that there are constraints in terms of aircrafts. There are constraints around pilots from a main line perspective and through training. We are hiring 2,000 pilots this year, and getting them through training is a real task. On the regional side, there is pressure because we don’t have the pilots that we need to fly a full regional schedule. I think capacity is going to be something, at least from an American perspective, where we have to fly within the resources that we have.”

Other airlines have not been affected by a shortage of pilots. Chris Perry, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, told CJ that the airline is not experiencing a shortage and is actually generating interest in pilot positions.

“Southwest appreciates being an employer of choice for pilots, and the airline experiences strong interest for first officer positions,” Perry said. “Currently, Southwest is not experiencing a shortage of Pilots. In fact, Southwest received approximately 3,000 applications for the 120 First Officer positions hired in 2021. We are on track to hire about 1,200 Pilots in 2022.”

Southwest also operates a program titled Destination 225°, which is one of many efforts the airline utilizes to build pipelines for future pilot talent.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that 8,402 pilots received their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) – Multi-Engine Land (MEL) licenses within the past year.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport told CJ that Airports Council International (ACI) is monitoring the pilot shortage situation on behalf of airports and declined to comment on this story. CJ was referred to ACI, who then referred CJ to the Regional Airlines Association (RAA). RAA could not be reached for comment.