June 17, 2022 Rick Moran (opinion)
The summer travel season is off to a rocky start for America’s largest air carriers. Over the five-day Memorial Day weekend, more than 2,800 flights were canceled for one reason or another, with severe weather playing only a small part.
More than one-third of all flights at LaGuardia Airport and over a quarter of flights at Newark Airport were canceled Thursday in one of the worst travel days yet this summer. The problem is partially attributed to a lack of pilots. Retirements and losses during the pandemic have yet to be filled.
And the staffing shortage isn’t limited to pilots. Flight crews, ground personnel, airport security people — all are in short supply.
It’s become a familiar refrain from Biden administration officials: it’s your fault, not ours.
The fact is, people who can pilot the big jets safely don’t grow on trees. About one-third are ex-military pilots, down from 80 percent in the 1960s. The military is also having difficulty attracting pilots. Given that the machines they’re flying are becoming more and more complex, this is worrisome news for the commercial airline industry. For more than a decade, industry analysts have pointed to the deficiencies in the pilot pipeline from military to civilian work.
Now, the predictions of pilot shortages have become a reality. Hastened by the pandemic and the massive layoffs in the commercial airline industry, airlines are scrambling to fill the gaping holes in their schedules — the result of fewer-than-expected pilot hires.
In the late 1960s, the Air Force upped the number of years a pilot had to serve from four to ten. According to a Washington Post analysis, “One pilot serving 10 years now does the work of 2.5 pilots serving four each.”
It’s not going to be possible to make up the shortfall in pilots anytime soon.
Turnover at the Transportation Security Administration is also a huge problem and non-government airport workers are notoriously underpaid. Attracting and keeping workers would be a big first step in addressing the current problem.
But if you’re flying this summer, you’re likely to experience delays and even cancelations.