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More than four years ago, a report by airplane manufacturer Boeing Inc. projected a demand for more than 637,000 pilots over a 20-year period, lest there be a pilot shortage.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian believes that could be a pressing issue more sooner than later.
"There is a looming shortage coming," Bastian said Tuesday. "It's not here yet. But it's on its way."
The CEO spoke at the U.S. Travel Association's "The Future of Travel Mobility" conference in Washington, D.C. in an hour-long lunchtime keynote chat with U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow.
The pandemic's effect on travel - and the financial shortcuts that airlines and the entire industry were forced to make by offering early retirement, buyouts and layoffs - hit every aspect of travel-related businesses, including pilots.
Couple that with the fact that a growing number of pilots have, or are about to, step down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, and it's a perfect storm for an imminent shortage.
"It used to be years ago you went in the military, you became a pilot and you went to work for Delta or one of the airlines, and you had a great career and you did well," Dow said. "And then the smaller carriers stopped paying much and pilots were saying 'OK, we'll find somewhere else to go.' There was conversation about aging pilots and the potential shortage (even) pre-pandemic."
Indeed, in a study performed in March of 2021 by New York- and London-based consultancy Oliver Wyman, the COVID-19 outbreak - and the subsequent dramatic reduction in passengers and flights - was a "momentary reprieve" for the issue of pilot shortages.
Between the aging workforce, fewer pilots exiting the military, and barriers to entry, including the cost of training, the roadblocks are piling up.
"We're working in collaboration with flight schools," Bastian said, offering up one solution to combat the shortage.
How soon the shortage will truly hit remains to be seen, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to support that it's already happening.
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the number of pilots in the United Kingdom who have retired over the last year-and-a-half due to the pandemic is believed to be double the amount of pilots who would normally have relinquished the cockpit during that time frame.
Closer to home, numerous airlines have already said they have or will reduce staff and cut back on the number of flights. As a result, smaller airports are already reporting pilot-related issues.
"There were some airlines that were very aggressive in terms of reducing their staff during the pandemic by offering incentives or retirement packages and stuff and they were very successful at getting people to leave their ranks so that they could reduce their payroll costs while they weren't making any revenue during the pandemic. Subsequently, now they have to play catch up the other way," Kevin Ploehn, the director of aviation and transit at the Billings-Logan International Airport in Montana, told KTVQ television.
Rich Thomaselli has written for TravelPulse since 2014 and has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. His work has...
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