Many airlines are cutting back on their upcoming flight schedules due to a shortage of pilots, and Hawaii isn’t immune to this problem. In fact, at least three airlines that fly to Hawaii have announced flight reductions as a result. You’ll recall that last month, Sun Country ended their flights to Hawaii entirely and cited a pilot shortage as a primary reason.
As we were researching recent issues with pilot shortages that impact Hawaii travel, we stumbled upon an online ad for Alaska Air pilot training, entitled, “No Experience Needed.” That sure got our attention. It reads, “Jump start your career in aviation… Get on your path to a professional pilot career.” The bottom line here, is that airlines are looking at this problem seriously and creatively, and taking matters into their own hands. New pilots will be arriving, but that’ll take time. We even heard of a doctor who decided to change careers to become an airline pilot using one of the training programs.
Alaska Airlines, we found, isn’t alone in developing pilot training. Their program, through Ascend Pilot Academy, takes three or more years to complete and graduates start at Horizon Airlines first to meet eligibility to fly for Alaska. Recently, United Airlines began its own flight school, called the United Aviate Academy. The Arizona facility is set to train 5k pilots by the end of the decade, and UAL says it wants half of those trained to be women or people of color. The company pays for pilot training at least through their obtaining a private pilot’s license.
This isn’t without controversy either.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the largest pilot union, says that despite what the airlines say, there’s actuallyt no shortage of trained pilots. They say the schedule reductions and other issues stem from both “profit-based business decisions” as well as mismanagement of federal Covid relief funds. That according to ALPA’s president earlier this month.
These Hawaii-centric airlines have big pilot issues.
Alaska Airlines. Last month, the Seattle-based Hawaii airline had a spate of cancelations related largely to pilot shortages. Alaska has has been in a bitter dispute with their pilots’ union over their new contract, and dozens of Alaska pilots have been reported to have jumped to other airlines as a result. Last week, CEO Ben Minicucci told employees that the high number of canceled flights since April would continue, but he hoped for some return to stability in June. “This is coming at a time when flights are already full, so rebooking options are limited and many of our guests have experienced extraordinarily long hold times.” This situation has impacted Hawaii flights, which we’ve heard has resulted in a 4%-12% reduction in Alaska flights overall.
American Airlines. Company CEO Robert Isom said, “we’re sizing the airline for the resources that we have.” While this won’t happen in Hawaii, fortunately, AA has even started using buses instead of regional planes to move people from some locations to their Philadelphia hub.
Delta Airlines. The company has cut its educational requirements so that a college degree is no longer required for pilots. Delta recently cut regional flying due to their pilot shortage. We aren’t aware of any Hawaii flight disruptions to date, however.
Hawaiian Airlines. Last month, Hawaiian canceled dozens of flights due to pilot shortages. Those were interisland flights and the airline said the problem was related to a flight training simulator. The company is aggressively seeking to add cockpit crew. Their ad offers a $10k sign-up bonus and $81 per hour to start as a first officer.
Southwest Airlines. The shortage of pilots there is exacerbated by a labor dispute. At least 800 pilots are planning a demonstration against SW next month. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association says perhaps 1,000 or more pilots could actually show up at Dallas Love Field come June 21. Recently, it was reported that Southwest Airlines will cut 20,000 summer flights. Impacted Hawaii flights thus far include the elimination of their popular Long Beach-to Maui route.
UAL. United Airlines CEO said recently that “The pilot shortage for the industry is real, and most airlines are simply not going to be able to realize their capacity plans because there simply aren’t enough pilots, at least not for the next five-plus years.”