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Sunday, October 2, 2022
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American Airlines Raises Regional Pilots’ Pay Amid Shortage


American Airline Airplanes. | Image by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

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American Airlines is raising pilot pay for three out of its six regional carriers, affecting approximately 4,500 pilots.

Pilots are in high demand as more Americans hit the skies for the travel season. Even with high oil prices forcing airfares up, passengers are still willing to pay. The lack of pilots has only pushed prices up further.

Need for pilots is particularly acute in regional carriers, which account for half of American Airlines flights.

Regional carriers service shorter routes with smaller planes, connecting parts of the country with less demand or travel infrastructure, like Lubbock, to the larger, big-city hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth.

“There is a supply and demand imbalance right now, and it really is within the regional carrier ranks,” said American Airlines CEO Robert Isom.

The airline reached a deal with union leaders last Friday night, securing a contract that extends through 2029, per The Dallas Morning News.

Under the new contract, new pilots will start at around $90,000 annually. First officers will make about $150,000 after a couple of years on the job. Experienced captains will earn roughly $200,000.

“There is a big demand from customers,” said Eric Morgan, CEO of American Airlines regional carrier Piedmont, speaking with the DMN. “Customers want to fly, and we have airplanes parked because we don’t have enough pilots.”

The parked airplanes Morgan referred to are the roughly 100 smaller regional jets with no one to pilot them.

Though regional carriers may be the most affected, the entire industry is feeling the pilot shortage.

Thousands of pilots took early retirement buyouts in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic when demand for air travel plummeted. Thousands more are nearing the mandatory retirement age of 65.

The pandemic-era drop in demand further compounded the existing shortage by creating a bottleneck.

All flights require at least two pilots in the cockpit, one of which must be an experienced “captain”; flights longer than eight hours need three.

First officers must fly a certain number of hours to upgrade their official designation to captain. With so few flights during the pandemic, pilots that stayed on the job did not accumulate the hours they would have otherwise.

Part of the American Airlines deal is a new incentive program that will help pay for student pilots to attend flight school and reach the required 1,500 flight hours to acquire an air transport certificate to fly commercial planes.

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