Airline Mismanagement of Billions of Dollars in Taxpayer Money

The Landing


What’s with All the Flight Delays, Cancellations, Confusion, Frustration?

Let’s Look at the FACTS.


Premise: Pilot Shortage

Flight cancellations, service cuts, and thousands of delays have airline managements screaming “pilot shortage.” And special-interest groups are laying the groundwork to dial back important safety regulations to “fix the problem.”

But what exactly is the problem? Some aviation stakeholders say there aren’t enough pilots to fill pilot slots.

FALSE: Federal government data shows that there are nearly 1.5 qualified pilots per airline pilot position. The same data shows that over the last eight years, the U.S. has produced more than enough certificated pilots to account for pilot retirements.

 

It’s true that the pandemic accelerated some early retirements at airlines in 2020. The average yearly attrition of pilots reaching age 65 is approximately 2,500. The average number of ATPs and restricted ATPs issued per year since 2012 is 6,500. Even if that number stays the same, though growth is expected, this equates to a surplus of 4,000 pilots annually.

Additionally, five of the seven largest passenger air carriers currently have the same number of, if not more, pilots now than they did in 2019 prior to the pandemic.

Conclusion: It’s time to stop pretending there’s a pilot-supply issue and start focusing on airlines’ mismanagement of taxpayer-funded pandemic relief aid and their attempts to dial back safety to benefit their bottom line. ALPA will continue to oppose those who seek to weaken pilot qualification requirements and reduce the level of safety because they can’t effectively manage their airline operations and instead create distractions to protect themselves from criticism.


Premise: Airline Management

American taxpayers provided airlines $63 billion in federal aid with one simple requirement: be ready for the postpandemic recovery. Airlines bet against a strong American recovery and mismanaged the pandemic money, leaving taxpayers and passengers stranded.

Federal Aid was granted to keep workers on the payroll so that airlines would be ready for the increased travel demand the industry is experiencing today. Instead, they pushed out thousands of pilots and ineffectively managed training resources for current employees. The result is a massive increase in flight cancellations and delays, which will likely grow during the summer travel season.

We’re now experiencing the economic rebound and instead of being prepared for the increase in travel demand, airlines squandered their opportunity to be more than ready. Ironically, though they mismanaged the return to normalized travel numbers, they didn’t mismanage their accounting books as many U.S. airlines started 2022 with stronger profit margins and less debt than before the pandemic.

Conclusion: It’s time to stop pretending there’s a pilot-supply issue and start focusing on airlines’ mismanagement of taxpayer-funded pandemic relief aid and their attempts to dial back safety to benefit their bottom line. ALPA will continue to oppose those who seek to weaken pilot qualification requirements and reduce the level of safety because they can’t effectively manage their airline operations and instead create distractions to protect themselves from criticism.


So when you read news media headlines and see “pilot shortage,” here’s what airlines really mean:

  • They mismanaged taxpayer federal aid.
  • They want to weaken pilot training requirements and reduce safety.
  • They want to pay pilots less and make flying less safe.

For more information, visit alpa.org/pilotsupply.

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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