The airline industry is staring down years of pilot and mechanic shortages that will ground some aircraft, cancel flights, and disrupt holiday travel.
- Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan spoke at the Bernstein Conference on Thursday, telling the audience that the airline industry is facing three years of pilot shortages.
- Jefferies’ analysts suggest that the U.S. is short 10,000 pilots, while estimates from Boeing suggest that the industry will need roughly 600,000 pilots within the next 20 years but is only currently training a third of that.
- American Airlines has roughly 50 large jets and 150 regional aircraft grounded due to a lack of crew, Reuters reports.
- Bob Jordan says that Southwest has grounded roughly 40 planes due to crew shortages but claims that the supply of pilots will improve by the end of the year.
- The airline industry is being forced to limit growth projections as backlogged delivery of new jets pushes new stock availability years into the future.
Why It’s Important
Patrick Arnzen is an entrepreneur, pilot, and the CEO of Thrust Flight, a multi-location flight school that regularly trains thousands of pilots. He tells Leaders Media that the ongoing situation is more serious than experts admit and that the U.S. is staring down years of instability in the airline industry until the current bottleneck of new pilots is able to start meeting the demands of the industry.
As we previously reported, U.S. airlines have experienced record travel in the past year as post-COVID travelers take vacations and travel for the first time since the pandemic began. The Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas weekends last year set new records for holiday travel. This glut unintentionally set in motion the slow-motion disaster of Southwest airline’s Christmas breakdown, with hundreds of thousands of travelers getting trapped for weeks as flights were canceled, pilots were stranded at the wrong airports, and luggage accumulated for weeks.
A similar situation is currently unfolding following the July 4 holiday weekend, with thousands of United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue Airways flights having been canceled amid delays and weather problems. Ongoing forward, Arnzen warns that every airline is going to suffer as a result of the shortage of crew. Large legacy carriers will be in the best position to weather the challenges, but smaller airlines are going to suffer tremendously.
“It’s going to become more painful to travel going forward. We saw this with the Fourth of July rush. There is so much pent-up demand from COVID, people are getting back to normal. It’s going to be frustrating to travel as a passenger. Smaller markets are no longer going to be served. You’ll see people missing connections. The system is going to continue breaking down. It doesn’t take much to break the system down. There’s no backup,” says Arnzen.
Despite the issues, the shortage does create new career opportunities for people willing to join the industry. Entry-level positions in the airline industry are going to become more widely available in the future as major airlines draw upon as many experienced flight crew from regional airline and civil aviation companies as possible, which will ground many small companies and airlines but keep jobs open.
“We don’t have enough people to train future pilots. Momentarily, Thrust Flight is vertically integrating—bringing people up, putting people through our program, and hiring them for as long as we can. Sadly, this has hurt alot of smaller operators. We’re not limited by the number of customers but by the number of employees. I’d double my staff tomorrow and ramp up my business if possible,” says Arnzen.
Arnzen says now is a great time to jump into the airline industry as a pilot or mechanic. It is a well-paying job, with the median annual wage for pilots and engineers netting $202,180, and some entry-level positions gross more than $100,000, following eight to 10 months of training.