More than 12 US airlines have been actively recruiting Australian pilots while the local industry grapples with severe staff shortages.
Australian Aviation can reveal that hundreds of professionals have now left post-pandemic to work for carriers such as budget airlines Spirit and Breeze, freight operators Kalitta Air and Atlas and regional offshoots such as CommutAir and PSA.
This year, Australia’s domestic aviation industry suffered the worst months for delays in its history in April, June and July.
Airlines and airports responded by rapidly attempting to hire thousands of extra staff and cut flights to improve the passenger experience. However, the sector has faced increased competition from overseas airlines, aggressively poaching Australian talent to fill their own shortfalls.
Aasiya Shaikh, managing director of global aviation recruitment agency Flight Crew, told Australian Aviation that the lack of talent was due to an imbalance of supply and demand.
“The supply of workers has decreased since 2019, and demand for travel has rapidly returned to 2019 levels, causing chaos for airlines and passengers,” she said.
“The US didn’t close domestic borders like Australia, so its regional and domestic networks didn’t shut down the way other markets did, making for a faster, smoother recovery.
“Demand for air travel had been on the rise each year globally before 2020, and in the US, we’re already largely back to that trend.”
Other carriers chasing Australian pilots include Frontier, Allegiant Air, GoJet, Piedmont, SkyWest, Red Wing and Avelo.
Boeing has long suggested that an additional 600,000 pilots will be required globally over the next two decades when accounting for retirements and air travel market growth.
Today’s industry is known as ‘top-heavy’, with over 3,000 pilots reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 each year in the US alone. American Airlines has said that one-third of its 15,000 pilots will reach retirement age before the end of this decade.
According to TSA figures, US passenger figures dropped to under 100,000 per day in April 2020 at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. The number of daily passengers has consistently sat at over 2 million per day since mid-2021.
“I’ve been recruiting pilots for 15 years, and I’ve never seen the pilot market as strong as it is today in the US,” Shaikh said.
“This time last year, we attended a pilot recruitment event in Dallas where maybe four or five airlines were actively looking for crew. This year, the number of airlines seeking pilots tripled at the same event.
“There were plenty of incentives throughout 2020 for pilots to retire early or take voluntary redundancy, which has left an unexpected hole as conditions improve.
“Additionally, for a decent number of pilots, this was the second or even third massive downturn they had seen in their career, so plenty of people left the industry voluntarily, for good. The result is we have fewer experienced pilots than we used to.”
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