- bbc world of news
It seemed that the worst was over.
After two endless years of the pandemic, flights around the world soared again this summer, millions of people packed their bags and went to airports everywhere in search of new destinations, reunions and adventures.
The airlines, one of the main affected by the covid quarantines with thousands of canceled flights, planes without passengers and massive layoffs, recovered again and some even reported their first profits since 2019.
Nevertheless, a new crisis was in sight.
With the arrival of summer, airline supply has fallen below demand and many companies have had to cancel flights, thousands of travelers have been stranded at airports for days and some have even been unable to receive their luggage for weeks. .
They called it “the armageddon of travel“.
And it is that the industry is facing a significant personnel crisis, which has led some airports in the world, such as Heathrow, in London, to ask companies to reduce their flights because they cannot cope with the number of passengers.
And amid the lack of people to load luggage, planes with few flight attendants and even record accumulations of suitcases at airports, many airlines have also been left without pilots, which has forced hundreds of flights to be abandoned. on the floor.
For many industry analysts and executives, this is the most serious challenge they face.
“The pilot shortage is the biggest threat to the industry I’ve seen since 9/11.Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein recently told the US Congress.
And it is that although the lack of flight commanders has affected the industry throughout the world, in the United States they have felt it particularly.
Major airlines there have announced plans to hire between 12,000 and 13,000 this year and in 2023, and about 8,000 in 2024.
Some have even had to lower or modify their requirements or look for pilots in other nations: Frontier Airlines is hiring in Australia, Delta Air Lines eliminated some of its requirement to hire flight commanders and others, like American, have started using buses for journeys previously made by plane.
But what is behind this situation?
a long crisis
As explained to BBC World Stuart FoxDirector of Technical Operations and Flight of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) the current lack of pilots is a problem that has been manifesting itself since before the pandemic.
“In the long term, a pilot deficit has always been predicted, given that there will be increased passenger demand that will require more pilots and there is also likely to be an increase in pilot retirement in the future,” he says.
As early as 2016, Boeing had predicted that the global aviation industry would require 679,000 new pilots until 2035while Airbus considered that in the same period about half a million of them would be necessary.
But according to Fox, then the pandemic aggravated and made more immediate a situation that could already be seen coming.
“Certainly, the cause of the current crisis is the pandemic and, due to the increase in demand, more pilots are needed,” explains the IATA expert, who sees the current crisis as a “short-term” problem.
“Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, airlines had to implement programs like promote early retirement of pilots or downsizing. That caused the short-term demand that we see right now, which has basically been caused by the covid crisis,” he opines.
And although much was said about this situation in the US, countries around the world experienced a similar situation.
To give you an idea, according to data from the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, around 23% of its members were fired during the pandemic.
an expensive race
For years now, major airlines around the world, mainly in the Middle East and Asia, have developed fierce competition, offering huge incentives to pilots to work for them.
Large carriers have also started hiring from smaller ones, which has made many regional airlines among the hardest hit, both in the US and around the world.
And it is that beyond the pandemic, the preparation required to fly an airplane in most countries is not only highly demanding, but also extremely expensive (less than a year’s training for a basic license can cost more than $90,000), which prevents it from becoming an accessible profession for the majority.
In some countries, such as the United States, some previous sources of recruitment, such as the armed forces used to be, have also been exhausted: the use of drones has led to the number of military personnel receiving flight training as pilots decreasing in recent years. , according to official data.
Given this situation, the passage of time has also taken its toll: many pilots have retired and, only in the United States, more than 13% of pilots will reach retirement age within five yearsaccording to data from the Regional Association of Airlines.
Throughout the world, companies are looking for measures to try to solve this situation.
“Airlines have been addressing this need in many ways, including creating new pilot training programs, enhancing recruiting efforts, leveraging communities to increase diversity (gender and race), and implementing programs to address financial obstacles,” he tells BBC Mundo Hannah Waldenof Airlines for America, which represents the largest US airlines.
And it is that only in that country, which has one of the most restrictive and severe laws, several legislators have even proposed changing federal laws that limit the retirement age or the required flight hours, which has been seen as an example of a global situation even more complicated.
In some countries, such as India, some airlines have even started hiring retired pilots due to the lack of staff who are also living.
Various unions have also denounced that this situation has led many pilots to work overtime and endure greater stress conditions.
“It’s a struggle every day out there. Our fatigue rates reflect thatCasey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, assured US media.
In the first five months of this year, the union says it received three times as many reports of pilot fatigue and fatigue as it did a year earlier.
A spokeswoman for the Airline Pilots Alliance (ALPA), the largest union of this type in the US, assured BBC Mundo that this type of situation, together with the request for measures to reduce flight hours to join certain airlines or increase the retirement age, could affect air safety.
“While we agree that we can do more to help make the piloting profession available to all, ALPA opposes any attempt to lower safety such as raising the retirement age for pilots and any attempt to use a narrative false to cut off service or reduce security,” he said.
Fox assures that it is still early to have an idea of when this problem will be solved or if its repercussions will be greater in years to come.
But executives of some large airlines estimate that the situation could spread. for more than a five-year period.
“The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines simply won’t be able to meet their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five years or more,” said Scott Kirby, CEO. of United Airlines.
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