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Pilot shortage contributing to ongoing travel headaches for airline passengers

Pilot shortage contributing to ongoing travel headaches for airline passengers
Pilot shortage contributing to ongoing travel headaches for airline passengers 02:39

By Mike Sullivan, WBZ-TV

BOSTON – United Airlines flight attendants hit the picket lines outside of Logan International Airport on Tuesday. The protest comes as the airline faced tens of thousands of delays in recent months.

According to FlightAware, United has delayed 67,485 flights and canceled 6,780 flights since May 1, 2022. It's just the latest blow on a struggling industry.

"A company the size of United should be available to their employees to get us what we need to do our jobs properly," United AFA Boston president Andrew Fahy said.

Fahy said the company has a problem with their scheduling desk. Crew members can't get ahold of them for hours during delays and cancellations. It keeps them stuck at the airport instead of assisting on other flights.

"We were on hold of 5, 6, 7 hours on a regular basis," Fahy said. "If we can't get a hold of our company, then our company can't reschedule us to be where we need to be to get our passengers where they need to be."

The industry also faces a pilot shortage, with one flight school saying 700,000 pilots will be needed over the next decade.

Bridgewater State is having trouble keeping their flight instructors. Budding pilots often train other pilots to gain the necessary flight hours to be a commercial pilot. As soon as they hit the number, the airlines scoop them up.

"[It used to be that] the airlines wouldn't hire these students until they had 2,500 hours, but now they are hiring with minimum requirements," Michael Farley, Chair of the Aviation Department at Bridgewater State University said. "It used to be that they would spend three to four years as a flight instructor at Bridgewater, train our pilots, but now it's taken 18-24 months. Pay for flight instructors is not a living wage. I would like to see the airlines take a much larger stand fiscally for training pilots."

Republic Airways petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to reduce the flight time for their training program called LIFT Academy. The school is located in Indianapolis, but graduates who chose not to stay and instruct at LIFT can accrue flight hours while working for Cape Air, which is headquartered in Massachusetts.

They argued that their training is as good as military training, which counts as flight time. The FAA recently rejected the proposal. In a statement, Republic CEO Bryan Bedford said the proposal would have improved airline service.

"Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, our proposal would enhance safety by providing students a highly structured, mission-specific training approach," Bedford said. "The data proves that our approach works and it would open the door to a rich career in aviation to any students who cannot otherwise afford to participate in this transformational career while helping to address the diminishing air service impacting 90 million Americans in small and mid-sized communities. It is disappointing that, when the nation is struggling to deliver reliable air service, the FAA has declined an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion on this topic or to approach it in a spirit of working together."

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