The lesson Northwest Airlines management seems to have just re-learned is that no carrier can staff enough pilots to cope with flight-canceling job actions when cockpit crews think they’ve been wronged. Crew shortages at Northwest have forced hundreds of flight cancellations this summer.
But those were really just a tink on the nose by flight crews focused on recapturing some of the money they gave back to the company during bankruptcy. The Tentative Agreement (TA) the union is expected to approve will offer incentive pay to crews and instructors for extra flying. It will also force the airline to hire more pilots.
They’re Doing it Again
Watching airline labor relations this year makes me think other majors like United, Delta and US Airways, will probably end up re-learning this same financial lesson too. There are other lessons the airlines seem doomed to re-learn as well.
Flight cancellations at Northwest were temporary and finding pilots for the majors is easy, despite the financial shadow the chaos of 9/11 cast on this profession. But the ready supply of seasoned aviators is running thin.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
At AirVenture last week, my friend Louis Smith and I gave a co-authored a pilot job forum. Louis is president of CyberCompass, the company that owns the Internet-based pilot information resource, FLTops.com. Louis spoke to the airline side of hiring while I spoke about corporate and charter flying. I’m focusing on FLTops.com data here because the numbers are so startling.
Smith says that all commercial operations, major airlines, regionals, charter, fractional and freight will requires a total workforce of some 68,000 pilots by 2018. By then however, the industry will lose some 52,000 to retirements and other forms of attrition. By 2018 then, we need to find about 120,000 new pilots. These numbers represent the need ONLY here in the states too.
At the regionals carriers right now, crew shortages are all too real. Some regional airline pilots don’t even show up for their scheduled new-hire class dates simply because they decided to take a better offer at the last minute.
At AirVenture last week – a show that often brings in 500,000 to 600,000 people interested in aviation – Mesa and Air Wisconsin were recruiting. Not passing out flyers mind you, but actively looking for qualified flight crew candidates, men and women they could interview on the spot. At last count, Mesa had five solid candidates six days into the show.
Some questions we need to seriously explore are why can’t regionals find enough pilots? Another is what the industry as a whole is doing to fix a problem that could well bring it to its knees in the next few years?
Critics say there are always enough people who want to fly if the money is good. And despite the fact that much of the airline industry thinks Multi-Crew licensing will solve everything, frankly I’m worried about the qualifications of some of the people we might be hiring into the right seat.
Few in the industry - airline or GA - seem particularly adept at planning for a future that will require more qualified pilots to fly the airplanes being built.
The airline industry should be talking to the general aviation/business aviation side of the industry right now because they need us to cement some of their future.
And guess what, we need them to solidify ours.