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Airlines Slash 2024 Pilot Hiring Numbers

Major U.S. carriers hired nearly 3,000 fewer pilots so far this year compared to 2023.

An American Boeing 787 in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Major U.S. airlines substantially scaled back pilot hiring during the first half of 2024. Citing aircraft delivery delays and normalizing attrition levels as reasons for the slowdown, airlines hired just over 3,600 pilots from January through June, a decrease from the 6,509 hired during the same period in 2023.

Data from airline career consultancy group FAPA measures hiring trends at 13 major U.S. carriers. The largest year-over-year swing was at Delta, which hired 1,667 fewer pilots during the first half of 2024.

Delta announced plans to reduce hiring by roughly 50% earlier this year. “What we anticipate for the coming year is a very strong, yet more normalized, growth pattern,” the airline told pilots in a January memo viewed by the Wall Street Journal.

According to FAPA’s figures, Alaska, American, FedEx, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United, and UPS did not hire in June. Last month, airlines hired a total of 187 pilots, down from the 909 in June 2023. It isn’t uncommon for airlines to slow hiring during the busy summer months, allowing training resources to be moved to the line.

UPS was the only carrier that hired more pilots year-over-year. With a new Postal Service contract in play, the cargo carrier hired 62 pilots between May and June with plans for a total of 300 new aviators.

Several major carriers — including American and Southwest — have announced plans to halt new hire classes through the end of 2024. Ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) Spirit is slated to furlough roughly 200 pilots in September.

Hiring totals at major U.S. carriers (Data: FAPA.aero)

Normalizing Trends

Many major carriers continue to face ongoing aircraft delivery delays, particularly at Boeing. Both Southwest and United have slashed their 2024 737 MAX delivery plans amid the manufacturer’s quality control woes.

Despite the year-over-year decrease, pilot hiring still remains well above pre-pandemic levels. During the first half of 2019, airlines hired 2,519 new pilots for an annual total of nearly 5,000, a far cry from last year’s 12,193.

“In fact, we hired and trained more pilots in 2023 than we have in the history of this airline, and we did it efficiently enough that we were actually a bit ahead of where we needed to be for the summer of 2024,” American’s Vice President of Flight Operations Russ Moore shared during a company briefing. “This allowed us to transition from a ‘hire and train as many as you can’ approach to a more traditional approach, which in and of itself reduced our hiring targets for 2024.”

Even with major airlines slowing hiring tempos, many regional carriers aren’t out of the woods yet. Some continue to offer sign-on bonuses for new captains and first officers, including GoJet and SkyWest.

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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