April 21. The U.S. pilot shortage could redound to United’s benefit if other airlines are forced to cancel flights due to staffing shortages, CEO Scott Kirby said. The carrier is getting ready for a summer demand to set records.
United Airlines acknowledged that the U.S. pilot shortage is real and a problem that won’t be resolved for several years, but the carrier’s management believes the issue will be more damaging to smaller airlines than to airlines its size.
Not that United is immune. Regional carriers operating under the United Express brand, mainly in smaller cities, are struggling to hire pilots. This will affect United’s ability to broaden its network to many small and midsized cities as regional airlines scale back their growth.
United believes U.S. pilot training schools produce between 5,000-7,000 pilots a year. The airline industry needs to hire 13,000 pilots this year as it is plotting post-pandemic growth, mostly to replace pilots who retired or took buyouts during the depths of the pandemic. Although many airlines, like United itself, have set up or partnered with pilot-training academies, it will take years before those schools can produce enough fully trained pilots to meet demand. To fly a commercial aircraft in the U.S., pilots need 1,500 hours of flight experience, a process that takes years and is expensive to complete.