Shortage of pilots to ground planes, stifling business opportunities

“The community now has a problem”

PSA Airlines is the only airline headquartered in Ohio, and it’s not alone. There is a shortage felt throughout the industry.

According to US consultancy Oliver Wyman, the world will need 34,000 pilots by 2025.

“Ultimately, the impact of furloughs, retirements and defections will create very real challenges for some of the largest airlines,” Wyman said on his website.

“The problem the community is facing right now is that they are losing air service, at crisis level,” said Faye Malarkey Black, chief executive of the Regional Airlines Association (RAA), which represents 18 airlines serving mid-sized or small airports and communities. Regional airlines.

According to the RAA, 32 U.S. cities have lost all commercial air service since 2013. Another 42 airports have seen air service declines of 75% since 2013, and 77 airports have seen reductions of 50% or more.

The more than 25 planes that PSA routinely grounds — either in short-term shortages or as operational spares — are a lot, Flannery said. These aircraft represent lease and maintenance costs.

“We have 130 aircraft in our fleet,” he said. “We’d rather fly the vast majority of them.”

However, beyond the PSA case, there is also the issue of maintaining unique community resources.

“The community is the one who gets scammed,” Flannery said.

Unions: Labor shortage misleading

The Airline Pilots Association union ALPA is the opposite voice on the issue, arguing there is no shortage. A union spokesman referred to the union website on the issue.

The union noted in August that 8,823 commercial pilots were newly certified last year.

The problem, as ALPA describes it, is that the seven largest passenger airlines have more pilots but are flying fewer than they were before the pandemic, “further evidence that pilot availability is strong, and the debate over supply is actually something some airlines Companies are trying to divert attention away from the mismanagement of their operations.”

“Once again, the data show that the United States is producing a record number of pilots,” ALPA President Joe DePitt said in a statement. “However, some in the industry continue to mislead the public about pilot supply in order to conceal poor business decisions and their attempts to negatively impact aviation safety.”

ALPA will not make DePete or other ALPA representatives available for interviews about the business decisions they are referring to.

Flannery said pilot salaries were not an issue. When he arrived in Dayton in February 2014, a first officer was making $22,000 a year in his or her first year of career. Today, that salary is closer to $130,000.

“We paid more. And it didn’t work,” Flannery said.

key business resources

Cities like Dayton have struggled to attract and secure regular commercial services. Flannery and others say there are risks in offering business travelers and vacationers.

Last month, the City of Dayton and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce joined the Air Services Alliance Rally, which describes itself as a national group of communities and organizations focused on the growing pilot shortage across the country.

“We’d love to fly more times, primarily to rebuild the network that our American group has built here over the decades to serve communities that used to have very good service levels,” Flannery said. (PSA is the U.S. A wholly owned subsidiary of Aviation Group.)

If regional airlines don’t offer flights to and from the airport, bigger airlines almost certainly don’t. In many places, a 120- to 150-seat mainline jet cannot serve communities as efficiently as a 65-seat regional jet, he said.

Flannery gave the example of a hypothetical midsize business. Given budgetary constraints, businesses will want to send employees somewhere and return within a day if possible without paying for the hotel.

More than a decade ago, former NCR CEO Bill Nuti cited what he believed to be a relative lack of flights in and out of Dayton International Airport as one of the reasons for moving the company’s headquarters from Dayton to the Atlanta area.

“Maybe that doesn’t mean you’re moving your headquarters,” Flannery said. “Maybe it means you missed a customer, maybe you missed a business opportunity. Over time, those things add up.”

Flights into and out of Dayton are important to CareSource, said Jenny Michael, senior vice president of communications for the Dayton-based health insurer.

“We think about customers who fly in,” she said. “We’re thinking about flying to the states where CareSource is expanding nationally. We certainly need to be in those markets where we do business.”

That’s one reason Michael welcomed the recent news that Avelo Airlines will be the first new airline added to Dayton International since 2016.

Michael added that the number of Dayton international flights has not hindered her company’s “exponential growth” in recent years.

Possible Solutions: Age, Cost and Access

Industry advocates say the problems are solvable. Essentially, they want to master the cost and quality of flight training, thereby lowering the cost of entering an aviation career.

They also want to make it easier for good older pilots to keep flying when possible.

Pilots must retire at age 65. Some industry watchers believe the limit should be lifted or extended.

Responding to criticism that changing the mandatory retirement age was only a temporary Band-Aid, Malarkey Black said: “We really need a Band-Aid right now.”

“The fundamental problem of the pilot shortage will persist for decades,” she said. But she said addressing training issues and student loan coverage will take time to bring in new pilots.

Malarkey Black and others argue that training is also in many ways inaccessible.

New pilots must earn a private pilot’s license, a prerequisite for a career in commercial aviation.

This process can cost around $80,000 to $90,000. But the aviation industry is not considered “worthy for lending”, the RAA and others say. Tuition at a private flight school not affiliated with a university does not qualify for student loans from most private lenders.

Student pilots can get loans, Malarkey Black said, but the undergraduate loan cap is “well below the real cost of pilot education.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires students to have 1,500 hours of flight experience to become an “airline transport pilot,” a pilot considered qualified to fly commercially. In September, the FAA rejected a proposal to halve the required hours.

“Adds up very, very quickly”

When Tom Casey, a flight instructor at Lewis-Jackson Regional Airport in Greene County, started flying, he could rent a small single-engine training plane for $25 an hour. Today, that cost is closer to $120 to $140 an hour.

That’s just for the plane. Teachers’ time is $40 an hour, he said.

“It adds up very, very quickly,” Casey said.

“For a kid like me who grew up in working-class Pittsburgh, not far from Dayton, there was no way I would be a pilot,” Malaki Black said.

Flannery backed a bill by the Wisconsin senator. Tammy Baldwin, American Pilot Act. The bill would authorize funding through the FAA to support the training of veterans who have not yet become military pilots.

Advocates also want to re-examine how pilots are trained.

Flannery said there is data to suggest that simply accumulating time in small single-engine aircraft does not necessarily make better pilots, nor does it prepare students to fly turbine-engined aircraft that can travel more than 500 mph. Congested airspace.

Flannery believes that students can gain experience on high-quality, high-level simulators and repeat until they have mastered it.

“Compare that to ‘I flew another two hours over cornfields in Indiana,'” Flannery said.

Malarkey Black wants to allow airlines to start their own training programs or partner with existing ones. “We’re talking about simulator time in a highly sophisticated full-motion simulator that exactly replicates the feel and experience of flying,” she said.

Flannery and Malarkey Black agree that a quality simulator experience is more valuable than spending time dragging banners or spraying crops

“That’s how airlines train,” Malarkey Black added. “Every upgrade a pilot does, every recertification, they do it in the simulator. It’s a standard.”

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