U.S. airlines facing a pilot shortage are considering measures that would make it easier to get pilots trained faster, including halving the number of flight hours needed to become a pilot.
The pilot shortage has led to flight cancellations across the country and airlines cutting regional planes, Business Insider reported.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in April during a quarterly earnings call, according to CNBC.
On May 13, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci posted a YouTube video where he apologized for flight cancellations, saying “we had 63 fewer pilots than what we planned for when we built our scheduled,” which he said led to a “ripple effect.”
“By the time we caught this error, April and May schedules were bid on by our pilots and flight attendants, making it impossible to sufficiently adjust schedules to avoid cancellations,” he said in the video.
In order to address the pilot shortage, some U.S. carriers have announced they would reduce the requirements needed to become a pilot in order to get more into the air, such as ending degree requirements, halving the number of flight hours needed, and increasing the pilot retirement age from 65 to 67 – a proposal Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is considering introducing in the U.S. Senate.
Delta made the announcement in January, saying it would increase pilot pay and offer large sign-on bonuses while at the same time eliminating the requirement that pilots have a four-year college degree, Insider reported at the time.
“While we feel as strongly as ever about the importance of education, there are highly qualified candidates – people who we would want to welcome to our Delta family – who have gained more than the equivalent of a college education through years of life and leadership experience,” Delta announced. “Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to our Delta flight decks.”
Republic Airways, a regional carrier operating on behalf of Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, is making a similar move. The carrier asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April for permission to hire pilots out of their training academy when they have reached 750 flight hours, half the number currently required.
The proposal has some detractors, for sure. Families of the victims who died in the Colgan Air 3407 crash in 2009 have pushed back on the suggestion. That crash, the last fatal U.S. passenger commercial airline crash, according to CNBC, resulted in the 1,500 flight hours requirement.
And it’s unclear whether the FAA would even approve Republic Airways’ proposal, telling CNBC in a statement that “While anyone can request an exemption, it does not mean it will be granted.
Insider noted that regional airlines are the hardest hit by the pilot shortage, since bigger airlines often hire their pilots. Jonathan Ornstein, CEO of Mesa Air Group, which operates on behalf of American and United, recently told CNBC that his airline “could use 200 pilots right now,” but that it takes 120 days to replace a pilot who has given their two weeks’ notice.