Pilots are in demand again, as strained airlines go on a hiring spree

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Airlines are poised for their busiest year of pilot hiring in more than three decades as the industry tries to restock a workforce reduced during the pandemic and strained by a quick rebound in travel.

Travelers returned in force this year, and the boom is expected to continue as international borders reopen and corporations send workers back out on the road. After seeking to conserve cash by urging thousands of pilots to retire early, airlines are now on an unparalleled hiring spree.

An American Airlines flight arrives at Miami International Airport, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Major U.S. carriers are on track to hire around 4,200 pilots this year and more than 9,000 next year according to FAPA.aero, a Nevada-based career and financial adviser for professional pilots. That would be the busiest year for pilot hiring in more than three decades, according to FAPA’s figures. In 2019, when airlines were hiring at a rapid clip, major U.S. carriers hired about 5,000 pilots.

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Regional airlines, where many pilots start their careers, are also on the prowl, competing to offer rich bonuses to lure new recruits.

"There are not enough pilots out there right now to go around," said Tim Genc, chief adviser at FAPA.

A Lufthansa flight arrives from Munich, Germany as an American Airlines plane comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Eric Bensinger was getting his flight log books in order and preparing cover letters to nab a job as an airline pilot.

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Then airlines stopped hiring. Pilot training programs were suspended, young pilots without seniority faced furloughs, and older ones considered whether to cut their careers short.

"I was getting a little concerned," Mr. Bensinger said. "I started looking at other industries."

Passengers board a United Airlines flight for Newark, NJ, at Fiumicino’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport, near Rome, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Over the summer, he had three job interviews and three offers, and accepted a job that offered an initial $10,000 bonus when he starts training and an additional $5,000 after a year. "I still can’t believe it right now," Mr. Bensinger said.

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Airlines have been plagued by staffing snarls as they have emerged from their pandemic-induced pullback. Workers from baggage handlers to fuel-truck drivers have been hard to find. Retraining pilots who were out on leave or had to switch to new aircraft types has created logjams. While those shortfalls have contributed to dayslong disruptions that have upended thousands of flights, airlines say such problems are likely to be short-lived.

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