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With summer travel forecast to be high even by pre-pandemic standards, passengers are having to deal with thousands of flight cancellations. Major carriers have the planes but don't always have the pilots to fly them. Miles O'Brien joins John Yang to discuss what's causing the shortages.
With summer travel forecast to be high even by pre-pandemic standards passengers are having to deal with 1000s of flight cancellations. Major carriers have the planes but don't always have the pilots to fly them. When demand for air travel plunged at the start of the pandemic airlines furloughed pilots and other workers and offered some early retirement. Now, they're struggling to meet the soaring demand. Aviation Correspondent Miles O'Brien joins me now to discuss this. Miles, this — there was talk about a pilot shortage even before the pandemic, how quickly and easily can this be solved?
Miles O’Brien, Aviation Correspondent:
Well, if you waved a magic wand, John, and said pilots didn't absolutely positively have to retire at the age of 65, which some people would agree is not the best line in the sand for a lot of individuals, you know, they do get checked out by a doctor thoroughly twice a year, you could do it on a more case by case basis, that would immediately leave a lot of very experienced, some of the best pilots you'd like on the flight deck, on the job.
The other end of it is the 1500 hour air transport pilot requirements. This came in the wake of the Colgan Air Buffalo crash in 2009. Congress decided to raise the bar for beginner pilots, they have to have this Ph.D. of flying and 1500 hours. Well, it costs well into the six figures to get all those hours and all those ratings. And what do you get for that, you get a job at a regional carrier that pays you about 20 bucks an hour. For some reason, people aren't lining up for that job. So if you changed both ends, if you raise the pay, if you maybe came up with a little more margin or have some wiggle room on that 1500 hour requirement and you raise that retirement age, you might be able to solve it pretty quickly.
And both those things need legislation to solve, right? Or to change those requirements?
It's either legislation or FAA rulemaking which takes us right back to where we are. This is when things slow down as you well know. There's pressing demand, right? People want to fly increasing numbers of people want to fly. The pandemic hastened all these retirements. And so the airlines are in a bit of a fix. But, you know, the honest to goodness truth is, if they pay their people more, we probably wouldn't have had this thing brewing for so long.
Are there safety concerns about those two things, lowering requirements, allowing older pilots to keep flying?
Well, as a 63-year-old guy, I'm never going to say a 65-year-old guy is unsafe to fly. But I will tell you, yes, of course, there are some cases where people should be, you know, for medical reasons, told not to fly anymore. But you can do this on a case by case. They are seen by doctors already. An evaluation can be made an ongoing basis, maybe there could be some wiggle room there, as far as the hours, you know, there are hours and then there are hours, are they strict academic hours. If you go to one of the aviation schools, you don't have to do the full 1500 hours. What does that tell you? Well, that tells you the kind of hours you're getting are better quality hours. So maybe there are ways to make those hours more valuable and increase the training value, the oomph to them.
The other thing that was never addressed in the wake of that Buffalo crash is these really regional airliners. The small airplanes. They look like they're the big players. They're painted that way, but they're run by small companies, which do the absolute bare minimum for safety requirements and training. The legacy carriers, the big guys go above and beyond. Maybe that bar should be set where the legacy carriers put it, for the regionals as well and that safety issue won't be as big an issue.
Now, the big pilots union in the States, the Airline Pilots Association says there is no pilot shortage. There are plenty of qualified pilots for the vacancies of the airlines. What's the difference of how they look at this?
Well, I mean, I think there's plenty of qualified pilots if you raise that age, if you look at lowering the number of hours, for example, to allow people to come in, qualified is, you know, what is qualified mean, right? Where do you set those lines? How many hours do you need to get in? And how many years are too much at the end? These are very debatable lines we draw in the sand. With regulations, you have to pick numbers, but in many cases very qualified people aren't in and very qualified people are told to go home and stay home. That's probably not good.
You mentioned the regional carriers, is this having a disproportionate impact on small regional airports on service to those airports?
Absolutely. This is where the — this is where you get your first job at the airlines after you've spent that 100,000 plus to get your 1500 hours and your ATP, you sign up for a regional player to fly the smaller jets on the so called commuter routes. And that's where the real trouble is. That's — this is where the initial hiring into the system begins. And so they will always be the leading edge indicator.
Miles O'Brien, Aviation Correspondent, thank you very much.
You're welcome, John.
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