Securing a pipeline of new pilots has been a top priority for airlines in recent years. In a 2019 study, 62 percent of flight operations leaders identified a scarcity of skilled pilots as a critical issue. In the United States, the root causes of these problems are an aging workforce facing mandatory retirement, fewer pilots exiting the military, and barriers to entry, including the cost of training.
When the COVID-19 virus first burst onto the scene, the debate turned from scarcity to abundance almost instantaneously. This offered a temporary relief for carriers who were struggling with pilot numbers. However, this has not lasted. As travel demand begins to increase, today’s narrative has swiftly shifted and airlines are having to create new ways of keeping their pipelies running. Within this shift, a major question that faces the aviation industry is when demand will return? Estimates for passenger recovery range from early 2022 to 2024 and beyond. However, demand for pilots is influenced by aircraft departures and utilisation rather than passengers. The global in-service fleet has already recovered to 76% of its pre-COVID size. While utilisation and consequent block hours continue to trail historical levels globally, its is anticipated that demand for pilots will outpace passenger growth by two to three quarters.
In response to shifting demand, three airlines have launched new and innovative strategies to combat the current bottleneck in pilot numbers.
Last week, United Airlines announced the start of its new training program, the United Aviate Academy. The inaugural class of students at the academy includes 80 percent women or people of colour, exceeding the airline's target of 50% by 2030.
Unprecedented training investment will significantly increase access to profitable and satisfying employment while maintaining United's world-class safety and training standards. Furthermore, United revealed its ambitious United Next plan last summer, with the goal of revolutionising the company’s flying experience and introducing more than 500 new, narrow-body aircraft into its fleet to coincide with the projected revival in air travel. To fulfill this need, United expects to employ at least 10,000 new pilots by 2030, with around 5,000 of those coming from United Aviate Academy.
American Airlines have also launched a new project to help the inflow of pilots. The airline’s Cadet Academy has been designed to address all of the obstacles associated with a traditional flight training course. One major hinderance for aspiring pilots has been the overall cost of training.
In response to this, once you are accepted into the Cadet Academy, you will have the opportunity to apply for a loan. The Custom Career Loan allows you to cover the costs associated with the Cadet Academy up to $110,000. American Airlines are hoping to attract more pilots to apply now that most of the costs can be covered.
Finally Delta Airlines is working quickly to increase staffing in Reservations and Customer Care, Airport Customer Service and Cargo, Flight Operations and Tech Operations in response to customers’ speedy return to travel. Also, Delta’s Propel Program added two more universities to its regimen: Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU) and Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Southern). The Propel Program, launched in 2018, supplements pilot hiring needs by offering an accelerated path to the flight deck for selected students and employees.
Overall, airlines will need to continue such aggressive recruiting if they are to overcome a shortage that may include 12,000 pilots in North America alone by 2023. When it comes to finding new pilots, United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta are all at the top of the list.