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U.S. Airline Pilot Hiring Stabilizing

Various factors are stabilizing as the hiring market cools down.

A CRJ-900 aircraft in Charlotte (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

After years of aggressive growth, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has corroborated messaging from multiple U.S. regional airlines that pilot hiring is stabilizing in the United States. Airlines are beginning to more easily manage their flow of pilots and plan ahead for future demand.

CommuteAir and Mesa Airlines both said that the ready supply of new pilots roughly matches the overall demand. ALPA announced at the end of March that the U.S. is consistently certifying a greater number of airline pilots each month compared to pre-pandemic levels.

To some, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Most notably, consumer courier companies like FedEx and UPS have significantly scaled back hiring over the past six months, and passenger airlines such as Southwest and United have done the same. Granted, the reasons for these changes vary – stabilizing demand for packages versus backups on airplane certification – but, in each case, it appears that the causes of the new hire slowdowns will not be short-lived.

This data does not mean, however, that all airlines’ needs are met. Many carriers, especially regional airlines, are still struggling to retain captains effectively to fully operate their schedules.

“We can hire first officers. I think almost every regional airline right now has a stack of first officers,” said CommuteAir CEO Rick Hoefling during an October 2023 interview with AirlineGeeks.

“The problem is building their time at the same time you’re attriting out captains at a pretty high rate in the industry. We went from a pilot shortage to a captain shortage now in the industry. So the pendulum is starting to move,” Hoefling continued.

And when there are enough pilots – captains and first officers together – to meet current demand, airlines may strive to start relaunching service to markets that were suffered before the pandemic. Regional carrier SkyWest Airlines announced late last year that it is planning to continue hiring enough pilots to cover not only the vacancies it has now but also to allow it to begin expanding services.

Pilot hiring is never a static condition; the amount that pilots are getting hired depends on various conditions. Without ongoing 737 MAX 7 and MAX 10 certification delays, for example, Southwest and United would not have reduced their hiring as significantly as they have in recent months, meaning hiring at regional airlines would still be higher to compensate for the crews lost to legacies. And as more senior pilots continue to retire, there will still be a certain amount of demand to maintain the current workforce.

John McDermott

Author

  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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