Upcoming Wave of Pilot Retirements Set to Impact US Airlines

Upcoming Wave of Pilot Retirements Set to Impact US Airlines

DALLAS — During a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, the Regional Airline Association warned that the US airline industry is facing a “tsunami of pilot retirements,” which could exacerbate the country’s pilot shortage, reduce flight availability, and increase fares.

According to Faye Malarkey Black, president, and CEO of the association, more than half of the pilots currently employed will reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 within the next 15 years. There are not enough younger pilots to replace them. As a result, there has been a decline in air service.

In prepared remarks to a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, Black highlighted the nationwide “severe and ongoing pilot shortage,” limiting passenger flight availability and causing airfares to increase.

Black noted that over half of today’s pilots are approaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 in the next 15 years, and younger pilots are not enough to make up for the aging pilots. The US has the highest number of commercial pilots, rising despite pilot retirements.

Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways.

Service Decline

As a result, there has been a decline in air services across the country. Now, 42 states have a reduced airline service than before the pandemic, 136 airports have lost at least a quarter of their services, and 11 smaller airports have been completely cut from some carrier’s networks.

Meanwhile, over 500 regional airline aircraft that provide feeder services for mainline carriers such as American (AA), United (UA), and Delta (DL) are sitting idle due to a lack of pilots. Those that are flying are operating up to 40% less than before. Despite strong demand and record bookings, most airlines have yet to restore their networks fully, leading to significantly higher fares than pre-pandemic levels.

The situation for the regionals has been exasperated by the fact that mainline carriers have been filling their pilot vacancies from these smaller airlines.

In 2022, the major airlines hired over 13,000 pilots, almost all from the smaller carriers that the RAA represents. Although more pilots earned licenses last year than ever, the 9,500 new pilots were insufficient to meet the demand.

Before the pandemic, there was a well-known scarcity of pilots. To prevent the situation from deteriorating, the airlines were given billions of dollars in government aid during the pandemic with the requirement of not laying off employees. However, many airlines offered buyouts and early retirement plans during the pandemic to reduce expenses. Additionally, the pandemic has disrupted the flow of new pilots.

Feature Image: Delta Air Lines (DL)

Aircraft maintenance engineering graduate and Aviation enthusiast with more than four years of experience in running a successful aviation startup.

You cannot copy content of this page