SkyWest Inc. CEO Chip Childs testifies during US House of Representatives hearing.
SkyWest Inc. president and CEO Chip Childs warned the US Congress of a “growing pilot shortage” that could become significantly more pronounced over the next three years, leading to the grounding of large numbers of aircraft in US regional airlines’ fleets.
Testifying March 8 at a House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing, Childs said Utah-based SkyWest—the parent of SkyWest Airlines and ExpressJet Airlines and the US’s largest regional airline operator—has been able to maintain adequate pilot hiring levels so far. But he said smaller regional airlines are having increasing difficulty finding qualified pilots and the shortage will likely soon begin to seriously affect SkyWest.
“All of us [in the US regional airline industry] see a very significant pilot shortage,” he said. “We’re deeply concerned about the statistics as we move forward over the next three years. There are a lot of retirements at the majors and we simply don’t have the backfill.”
Childs said US major airlines, which primarily hire flight deck crew from US regionals, are expected to hire 18,000 pilots in the next three years, nearly the size of the current regional airline pilot workforce. He warned that the shortfall in pilots could ultimately lead to the parking of as much as two-thirds of the US regional airline fleet in operation today.
That would create a big loss in service to smaller US markets, Childs warned, noting, “We are the only source of [air] travel at 60% of the airports that we serve.”
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) has cast the problem as largely one of compensation levels for pilots, but Childs said there has been a “tremendous move and shift [to higher] compensation in the last few years” for pilots at US regional airlines.
FAA’s Congressionally mandated rule requiring pilots to accumulate 1,500 flight hr. before becoming a first officer at a Part 121 US airline has been blamed for escalating the cost of becoming an airline pilot, but Childs did not press Congress to change the law that led to the rule as US regional airlines have in the past. In what may signal a change in lobbying strategy for US regional airlines, Childs instead pushed for Congress to provide guidance to FAA to allow for more “alternate pathways” to meeting the 1,500-hr. requirement within existing law.
Childs said prospective pilots need financial assistance. “We need some loan programs for pilots,” he told lawmakers.
Also testifying at the same hearing, Alaska Airlines president and CEO Brad Tilden said, “I just want to support Chip Childs on the pilot training … Student loans [for pilots] guaranteed by the federal government … would be beneficial.”
Asked by a House member about expanding service to rural areas in the US, Childs said, “The reality is if there are not enough pilots … [and] you’re trying to get new service—that is not going to happen unless we resolve this.”
Aaron Karp email@example.com