Some of airlines’ most in-demand flights this summer don’t even leave the ground.
Flight simulators from Atlanta to Dallas to Miami and elsewhere are humming as airlines scramble to get hundreds of pilots trained to meet a surge in bookings that kicked off this spring as vaccinations rolled out and Covid-era restrictions eased.
Domestic leisure travel has recovered to 2019 levels, while business travel is also rebounding, airline executives said this month.
Airlines have received $54 billion in federal aid since March 2020 in exchange for not laying off workers. But voluntary departures, changed fleets and the rapid rise in travel demand have created a need for pilot training that industry experts say is without parallel. Reduced flight schedules also meant pilots weren’t getting in their minimum takeoffs and landings required to maintain their flying status. Training pilots on new aircraft can take weeks while annual retraining can take a few days.
“What is unique about this experience is the drop-off in business [early in the pandemic] was an existential threat to the business,” said Bryan Terry, managing director and global aviation leader at Deloitte. “Then what came, the unexpected part, the return to travel came faster than expected.”
That “puts a very tight timeline” on the pilot training, he added.
Airline executives urged pilots and other employees to take early retirement and leaves of absence at reduced pay to cut expenses. They parked hundreds of jets, retiring some planes altogether…read more.