Biden Administration Provides Funds to Alleviate Pilot Shortage

Skift grip

The federal government finally recognizes that there is a shortage of pilots in the United States. But beyond the platitudes, there are still few new funds intended to tone it down.

Edward Russell

The Biden administration is moving forward with grants aimed at increasing the supply of pilots in the United States. The move, highlighted by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is the first acknowledgment by a Cabinet minister that more needs to be done to strengthen the aviation workforce.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is inviting proposals for $5 million in aviation workforce development grants, Buttigieg told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during a audience tuesday. These funds are intended to increase the supply of pilots and complement the initiatives of airlines and other industry players.

“There won’t be a quick fix, but we have to work to strengthen this national aviation workforce,” Buttigieg said in response to a question from the senator. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.V.).

In response to a question from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Buttigieg acknowledged that the situation is not new and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We believe this is related to a number of issues ranging from the pipeline to downsizing that have occurred during the worst periods of Covid-related flight cancellations, to some issues around wages and conditions,” he said. he declared.

Labor issues are forcing U.S. airlines to cut their summer schedules, just as pandemic-weary travelers are expected to fill their planes for summer vacation. Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines all have reduce summer hours citing shortages of personnel, including pilots. Major carriers American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines say their regional subsidiaries — the airlines that fly American Eagle or Delta Connection — are facing unusually high levels of pilot attrition.

Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth estimated in April that US airlines would hire about 13,000 new pilots a year this year and in 2023. However, the current training and certification process only produces about 5,000. to 7,000 new pilots per year. The rest is expected to come from regional airlines and, to a lesser extent, smaller airlines like Alaska and JetBlue.

During the hearing, Sens. Capito, Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Tester pointed to SkyWest Airlines’ notice in March that it ending flights to 29 subsidized essential air service (EAS) destinations for lack of pilots. These cancellations would affect at least four destinations in their states. The Department of Transport has banned SkyWest from ending flights until it can find a new airline operator to the destinations, which are mostly small and remote communities.

“I sometimes drive four and a half hours to catch a flight back here, so I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to get to Washington, D.C. And if I do that, every business person in the state does too,” Tester said. SkyWest did not include any EAS communities in Montana, many of which are served by Cape Air, in its exit notice.

Buttigieg did not specify any new or additional sources of funding to address pilot supply issues beyond the FAA’s grant program, which was established in 2018. However, he said the DOT must act to help alleviate the shortage and that FAA funding was “being lined up” to increase the supply of pilots.

Other efforts in Washington, D.C. to increase the supply of pilots include pressure from the airline industry to expand federal financial aid rules to cover living and other expenses for pilot trainees. In addition, regional airlines are working on a training credit program that new pilots could claim the 1,500 hour requirement for new commercial airline pilots.

And, in response to criticism of low wages for new pilots, many airlines have negotiated new agreements with their pilot unions that dramatically increase pay rates. Carriers big and small are also offering lucrative signing bonuses and incentives for new crew members to come and stay with an airline.

“It’s a national problem,” Buttigieg said. “This affects the entire national aviation industry, but disproportionately affects smaller regional carriers.”