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Major U.S. Airlines Hire Fewer Pilots in 2023

Despite an overall reduction in pilot hiring trends, some airlines reported a record year in 2023.

Inside the cockpit of an Air Italy Boeing 737 MAX. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Major U.S. airlines hired fewer pilots year-over-year in 2023, according to data from pilot career advisory firm FAPA. In total, the 13 U.S. major airlines that FAPA tracks recorded 12,335 new hires, a 6.2% decrease from 2022 figures.

This decrease comes on the heels of some airlines halting pilot hiring altogether. In October 2023, ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Spirit indefinitely suspended hiring. Both FedEx and UPS have advised pilots already on property to look at flying at regional carriers, while also significantly pulling back the throttles on hiring.

Despite the year-over-year reduction, 2023 was the second-highest year on record for pilot hiring at major U.S. carriers.

Record Year for Some

A handful of airlines reported record hiring years for new aviators. Allegiant, American, Delta, and Southwest all had a banner year, according to FAPA’s data. Southwest had the largest year-over-year increase with 776 more pilots joining its ranks compared to 2022. The Dallas-based carrier is nearing a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with its pilots pending a vote.

The so-called ‘big three’ airlines – American, Delta, and United – recruited 57% of all pilots hired last year. Even as it looks to expand its training facility in Denver, United hired 62 fewer pilots year-over-year.

These record-setting hiring rates tie into the U.S.’s continued production of Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificates. Overall, ATP-certified pilots exceed pre-COVID figures by more than 6,500 individuals, per the Aero-News Network.

Lucrative Opportunities Still on Offer

While FAPA only tracks pilot hiring for major carriers, the firm acknowledges that it is likely regional carriers also hired at a similar rate. “While these numbers only reflect the pilot hiring efforts at the thirteen major airlines…it’s important to recognize that pilot hiring at regional and the private/business aviation carriers would at least equal but more likely exceed these values,” it said in a January 2024 edition of its bulletin.

As many airlines — especially regional carriers — struggled to retain captains, many regional airlines are continuing to offer lucrative bonuses for direct-entry captains. For example, American Airlines’ wholly-owned regional subsidiary PSA is offering captains from FedEx and UPS a $250,000 signing bonus.

2024 Projections

U.S. airlines are starting to look at 2024 hiring and, according to FAPA’s data, projections for pilot hiring are at 75% of the last two years’ figures. While a decrease, these figures are likely to still eclipse hiring trends prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Atlanta-based Delta was the first of the ‘big three’ airlines to announce its plans to reduce pilot hiring in 2024. The airline said it intends to hire slightly over 1,000 pilots in 2024, which represents half of its numbers from the last two years.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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