Pi­lot short­age hits US re­gional air­lines

The Pak Banker - - COMPANIES/BOSS -

Mid-sized and re­gional air­lines in the US are suf­fer­ing from a pi­lot short­age that could threaten the health of the broader US avi­a­tion in­dus­try. The la­bor short­fall has led to can­celed flights at car­ri­ers like Mesa Air­lines and Sil­ver Air­ways. That has hit smaller air­ports, such as in Red­ding, Cal­i­for­nia, or Erie, Penn­syl­va­nia, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Air Line Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion (ALPA).

The staffing crunch could also con­strain traf­fic for larger com­pa­nies like United Air­lines and Delta Air Lines that de­pend on the mid-sized com­pa­nies to serve ru­ral con­sumers and feed cus­tomers into their net­works. "It's be­com­ing a cri­sis at some car­ri­ers, re­sult­ing in the can­cel­la­tion of flights and other se­ri­ous dis­rup­tions," said Pa­trick Smith, a pi­lot who runs "Ask the Pi­lot," an avi­a­tion blog.

Re­pub­lic Air­ways, which op­er­ates flights for Delta, United and Amer­i­can Air­lines, filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion last month, cit­ing the la­bor crunch.

"We've at­tempted to re­struc­ture the obli­ga­tions on our out-of-fa­vor air­craft -- made so by a na­tion­wide pi­lot short­age -- and to in­crease our rev­enues," said Bryan Bed­ford, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Re­pub­lic Air­ways.

"It's

be­come

clear

that

this process has reached an im­passe and that any fur­ther de­lay would un­nec­es­sar­ily waste valu­able re­sources of the en­ter­prise."

Things at Re­pub­lic came to a head last July, when the air­line ac­knowl­edged cut­ting four per­cent of its flights due to a dearth of pi­lots. Delta sub­se­quently filed suit against Re­pub­lic, al­leg­ing breach of con­tract.

Avi­a­tion in­dus­try in­sid­ers cite a num­ber of fac­tors for the drop-off in pi­lots: longer work­ing hours, con­tentious re­la­tions with man­age­ment, fewer job pro­tec­tions and in­dus­try turnover with the ex­pected re­tire­ment of some 18,000 pi­lots through 2022.

But the big­gest fac­tor is com­pen­sa­tion. Re­gional car­ri­ers pay pi­lots an av­er­age of $27,350 per year, ac­cord­ing to Paul Ry­der, a cap­tain at Ex­pressJet Air­lines who is ac­tive with the ALPA. That com­pares with an an­nual salary of $103,390 at large air­lines, ac­cord­ing to US La­bor Depart­ment data.

As­pir­ing pi­lots must pay be­tween $150,000 to $200,00 to ob­tain their li­cense, Ry­der said.

Three years ago, US reg­u­la­tors stiff­ened the re­quire­ments on pi­lots fol­low­ing a 2009 Col­gan Air crash near Buf­falo, New York, that killed 49 peo­ple.

Com­mer­cial pi­lots must now have 1,500 hours of flight time be­fore qual­i­fy­ing for their pi­lot's li­cense, com- pared with just 250 prior to the rule shift.

Adding to that bur­den is a shift in the broader avi­a­tion in­dus­try as re­gional fly­ing has grown. Up-and­com­ing pi­lots once viewed the re­gional car­ri­ers as a step­ping-stone to a job with a big­ger com­pany, said Smith.

"To­day, the re­gional sec­tor ac­counts for half or more of all fly­ing, and pi­lots are re­al­iz­ing that a job with a re­gional of­ten means an en­tire... ca­reer with a re­gional," Smith said.

"Fewer pi­lots are will­ing to com­mit hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars into their train­ing and education for a ca­reer with such a lim­ited re­turn on in­vest­ment, in what has his­tor­i­cally been a very un­sta­ble in­dus­try."

Steps taken by some re­gional car­ri­ers in­clude boost­ing com­pen­sa­tion, such as of­fer­ing a bonus to qual­i­fied pi­lots of $80,000 spread out over four years, said in­dus­try con­sul­tant Kit Darby.

Com­pa­nies are also grant­ing bonuses of $500, $1,000 or $1,500 for pi­lot re­fer­rals, Darby said.

"An air­line that wants to be able to re­cruit new pi­lots and to re­tain its cur­rent pi­lots needs to of­fer rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion, fair work­life bal­ance and some ca­reer path with sta­bil­ity," said pi­lot Ry­der.

"An air­line that does not of­fer that typ­i­cally has seen chal­lenges in at­tract­ing em­ploy­ees."

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