In a move designed to ease industry-wide pilot shortages, Southwest Airlines announced last week that it would be lowering its minimum training requirements for pilots.
The new policy will reduce the minimum number of flight experience required before a pilot can join Southwest from 1500 hours to just 1000 hours.
The decision was made in light of the ongoing pilot shortage faced by the entire industry. The shortage has led to increased competition among airlines to recruit more pilots, with some carriers lowering their entrance requirements in order to attract pilots.
Southwest, like others in the sector, has been struggling to fill open positions and the reduction in flight hours is seen as a way to address this issue. In addition to lowering their minimum requirements, the airline is also offering sign-on bonuses and other incentives to attract new pilots.
In 2022, Southwest employed a total of 1,000 pilots, with plans to up this to 1,700 in 2023. While many budding pilots may be elated by the news of their flying career bringing brought forward, elsewhere there have been growing concerns over the safety of this new policy.
A spokesperson from Southwest Airlines has assured that the company's flight operations training program remains unchanged. Prospective first officers are still required to complete all of the training modules before being cleared to fly for Southwest.
Additionally, they stated that the new policy aligns with the regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which mandates that all pilots must accumulate a minimum of 1,500 flying hours to obtain a license, regardless of the type of aircraft.
But even so the fact of the matter is Southwest will be, by default, hiring less experienced pilots to fly their planes.
The news comes amidst ongoing criticism of Southwest for a series of meltdowns, starting with the cancellation of 16,700 flights during the winter travel peak in December. The US Department of Transport has since launched a full-scale investigation to look at the causes of the meltdown, with unions pointing the finger squarely at outdated technologies and practices.
Following this meltdown, another investigation by the US Department of Transport has been opened to look into the near miss involving a Southwest Boeing 737 and a FedEx Boeing 767F at Austin-Bergstrom international on Monday.
Other airlines have also looked at ways to increase pilot recruitment that do not include lowering flying hours. For example, Delta has revamped its Propel program which aims to “identify, select, and develop the next generation of pilots. The program works with Wheels Up to create a steady pipeline of pilots by attracting, retaining and training new pilots.
As airlines struggle to meet the demand for pilots it is clear that some carriers are willing to cut corners. The decision by Southwest to lower its minimum hour requirement for pilots may yet have unintended consequences for passenger safety.
Photo: Kirby Lee via AP