MIAMI – United Express (UA) carriers are currently facing a significant pilot shortage, forcing the regional airlines to ground nearly 100 of their jets. United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby, spoke about the situation during a hearing at the American Senate on Wednesday.
United Express is the brand under which six different regional American carriers operate flights to/from UA’s hubs. These short-haul routes are crucial to the airline’s hubs, as many passengers are flying on another UA aircraft after flying from their home airports. Without these routes, the hub strategy does not function well.
Regional carriers flying for UA currently do not have enough pilots to fly airplanes. Since the beginning of the year, there more and more pilots being hired, as the recovery from the Covid pandemic continues. However, regional airlines are not as attractive for pilots as large carriers. Regional pilots are less paid at regional airlines, which pushes them to go to larger airlines.
Due to not having enough pilots to meet the demand, United Express carriers had no choice but to ground regional aircraft and keep hiring more pilots. However, with low-cost expanding and large carriers hiring too, it looks to be a difficult task.
According to Scott Kirby, almost 100 regional aircraft are now grounded, mostly 50-seaters regional jets flying to small destinations. The aircraft types involved in the groundings are the CRJs 200 and 550, and the Embraer 145.
Scott Kirby Explains
At the Senate hearing last Wednesday, Scott Kirby was asked about the current pilot shortage.
“There has been a looming pilot shortage for the last decade in the United States, and going through COVID it became an actual pilot shortage,” the CEO said, answering a question from a senator.
He also explained the consequences: “We have almost 100 airplanes effectively grounded right now — regional aircraft — because there are not enough pilots to fly them, which means we can’t at the moment fly to all the small communities that we would like to. It’s really about not having enough pilots.”
An Ongoing Problem
United already showed concerns about the pilot shortage earlier this summer. UA also stopped flying to some of its regional destinations, again due to the same staffing issue. The solution for the carrier would be to make training easier and cheaper for pilots. It would allow more young pilots to enter regional carriers and solve the shortage problems.
Scott Kirby added, “As much as we like getting EAS money when we fly to markets, I’d much rather take those funds and put them into the infrastructure to create training for pilots, and to build a robust pipeline that makes it easy for people with an aptitude and a desire to be a commercial airline pilot to get the training, to get the skills that they need.”
Becoming an airline pilot is hard and expensive. Making it cheaper could make the job more appealing for aspiring pilots. Moreover, according to UA, it could solve at least a part of the ongoing pilot shortage.
Featured image: The CRJs are a very important part of the United Express fleet. Photo: Miles Aronovitz/Airways