Why Are Thousands of Flights Being Canceled at America’s Airports?

America’s biggest air carriers are having a difficult start to the summer travel season. More than 2,800 flights were canceled over the Memorial Day weekend. Severe weather was a minor factor.

On one of the most difficult travel days this summer, more than a third of all flights from LaGuardia Airport was canceled Thursday. Partly, the problem can be attributed to a shortage of pilots. The pandemic has not yet seen the completion of retirements or losses.

The staffing shortage doesn’t just affect pilots. Staffing shortages affect all levels of aviation personnel: ground personnel, flight crews, and airport security personnel.

New York Post:

Delta, American, and Southwest Airlines pilot unions claim that the companies are too slow to replace those who have retired or taken leave of absence due to the pandemic.

Poor weather conditions have been blamed by airlines as well as the Federal Aviation Administration. This agency manages the country’s airspace and air traffic control centers. Staffing problems are another issue.

Thursday’s cancellations were caused by a meeting between airline CEOs and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss concerns about airport bottlenecks and frustrated passengers this summer.

“I let them know that this is a moment when we are really counting on them to deliver reliably for the traveling public,” Buttigieg told NBC News.

Officials in the Biden administration have adopted this familiar refrain: It’s not our fault.

What can airlines do to ensure that they “deliver reliably for the traveling public”? Maybe a TV campaign called “Help Wanted: Pilots”.

It’s not a fact that people who are able to safely pilot large jets don’t come from trees. Ex-military pilots now make up about one-third of the total, a drop from 80 percent in the 1960s. Pilots are also finding it difficult to get into the military. This is worrisome news to the commercial airline industry, as the complex machines they fly are making it harder for them to attract pilots. Industry analysts have been pointing out the problems in the pipeline of pilots for more than a decade. They range from civilian to military work.

The predictions of pilot shortages are now a reality. Airlines are struggling to fill the gaps in their schedules due to the pandemic and massive layoffs within the commercial airline industry. This is because there are fewer than expected pilot hires.

The Air Force increased the length of time a pilot must serve by increasing the number from four years to ten in the 1960s. A Washington Post analysis found that a pilot who serves ten years does the same work as 2.5 pilots who serve four years each.

This also discourages some pilots who see a four-year commitment as an alternative to flight school, but aren’t ready to commit to 10+ years of flying after one or more years of training.

Even though the flight time requirements for commercial copilots have increased from 250 to 1,500, most pilots now choose a civil education. Smith stated that it can be as high as $300,000. The returns are immediate: entry-level copilots can make $30,000 to $50,000 per year, while veterans working for major airlines can make $300,000.

It is unlikely those pilot shortages will be remediated anytime soon.

The Transportation Security Administration’s turnover is a major problem. Non-government airport workers are also notoriously underpaid. The first step to addressing the problem is to attract and keep workers.

However, if you fly this summer, there will be delays or cancellations.