Beyond the Headlines

Air Line Pilot, May 2004, p.35

Pilot Hiring on the Rise, According to AIR, Inc.

U.S. airlines are beginning to hire more pilots. At least that’s the latest indication according to statistics compiled by AIR, Inc., a company that regularly tracks pilot hiring trends among U.S. airlines. The company recently released information that suggests that U.S. airlines hired more pilots in February than in any other month since September 2001. This comes as good news to the thousands of pilots who have endured extensive furloughs.

According to airlines polled by AIR, Inc., 743 pilots were hired in February. Of the 187 airlines that report to AIR, Inc., 155 say that they are actively recruiting pilots. Carriers included in the survey forecast hiring a total of 4,300 pilots in 2004. As of February, they have hired approximately 31 percent of that number. Airlines with significant hiring include

Airline    February 2004
Expected Total
2004 Hiring
Air Wisconsin    15    140
America West    31    90
American Eagle    51    400
Comair    26    140
JetBlue    20    200
Mesa Air Group    65    600
Pinnacle    48    300
Spirit    10    60
Sky West    0    150
Southwest    0    400
Trans States    38    200

Although furloughs continue in some sectors of the industry, a number of airlines have begun recalls. Continental at press time had 542 pilots on furlough, but management has agreed to fill 169 slots by midsummer. Northwest at press time had 883 furloughed pilots and has sent 52 recall notices for May flying and 35 for June flying.

The numbers indicate an overall positive trend for the industry, which has suffered through a difficult economic period. Although pilot hiring decreased slightly in November and December 2003, hiring has been rising steadily since July 2003.

A struggling economy, concerns over terrorism, and a number of airline reorganizations are all factors that have kept pilot hiring to a minimum, and indeed prompted furloughs at some carriers over the past few years. But, while airlines are currently hiring far fewer pilots than they were before Sept. 11, 2001, many in the profession are hoping that recent numbers signal the industry’s slow emergence from its economic difficulties.

But whatever it means, it’s probably a good idea for out-of-work pilots to stay current and update their résumés. Competition for jobs will probably continue to be stiff for quite a while.

Spirit to Upgrade Fleet

Spirit Airlines recently announced its intentions to replace its fleet of 32 MD-80s with as many as 95 new Airbus A319s and A321s. The initial order of 35 aircraft is estimated at $2 billion, although subsequent orders could amount to as much as $5 billion.

The decision to place orders with the French-based aircraft manufacturer over rival Boeing comes after the airline announced that it had received a $125 million equity investment from a group led by Oaktree Capital Management, LLC, a Los Angeles-based investment firm.

In the past 5 years, Spirit has experienced substantial growth, doubling its revenues to $450 million in 2003. Currently the 14th largest U.S. airline and the largest privately held carrier in the United States, Spirit operates 115 flights daily to 16 cities, and recently applied to the U.S. government to add 10 new destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. ALPA represents Spirit’s more than 350 pilots.