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US airlines to hire pilots as vaccines bring promise of travel recovery

NEW YORK • American Airlines' wholly owned regional subsidiary PSA Airlines and budget carrier Frontier Airlines plan to hire pilots again this year, a positive sign for an industry ravaged last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

As Covid-19 vaccines roll out, airlines are hoping for a major improvement in domestic air travel by the summer, even if demand does not fully recover to pre-pandemic levels.

"As we continue to work with American Airlines to identify our flying needs this year, and in combination with recent attrition numbers for our pilot group, we will be initiating hiring efforts for first officer team members," Mr Keith Stamper, vice-president of PSA's air operations, said in a memo reviewed by Reuters.

A PSA spokesman confirmed the plans, which also include flight attendant hiring.

Frontier Airlines, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners, intends to restart recruiting in July, with a plan to hire about 100 pilots this year provided passenger demand recovers, a spokesman told Reuters.

For years, airlines were aggressively recruiting to address projected pilot shortages during an era of industry growth, but hiring and training programmes were halted last year as the pandemic forced thousands of furloughs.

PSA, which operates domestic routes for American, furloughed 723 pilots and 323 flight attendants last October when an initial Covid-19 relief plan for United States airlines expired.

Employees were recalled last month following a fresh US$15 billion (S$19.9 billion) government aid for the struggling industry.

Major airlines like American rely on regional carriers, which have a cheaper workforce, to operate a large share of their domestic networks.

Over time, regional pilots work their way up to the majors, which are preparing for a wave of retirements in coming years even after many pilots took early departure deals during the pandemic.

American, for example, expects more than 11,149 pilots to reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 between this year and 2041, with 455 expected to stop working this year alone, according to internal company projections updated on Monday.

This article originally appeared on the Straits Times

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