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Southwest Pilots Union Pickets at Dallas Love Field Airport as Cancelations and Delays Mount

The airline industry is facing a shortage of pilots, leading to labor unrest and canceled routes.
The airline industry is facing a shortage of pilots, leading to labor unrest and canceled routes. Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash
Amid ongoing chaos in the air travel industry, Southwest pilots picketed at Dallas Love Field Airport Tuesday to protest a pilot shortage, poor working conditions, delays and cancelations, they say.

Amy Robinson, communications director for the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association (SWAPA), said they want movement in their contract negotiations, which have been continuing for some time.

“We have been in contract negotiations for more than two years,” said Robinson, and they intend to continue their picketing if their needs were not met.

If anyone has ever dreamed of being a pilot, now might be the time to get started. Many took early retirement because of the coronavirus, and now there is a lack of regional pilots. Those pilots who are flying say they are being overworked and want contract negotiations.

Based in Dallas-Fort Worth, American Airlines recently canceled service to three regional airports because of the pilot shortage, which will take effect September 7. The three cities cut are Toledo, Ohio, and Ithaca and Islip, both in New York.

Kayla Lewandowski, the communications manager for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, wrote that they were “incredibly disappointed” to learn of American Airlines’ decision.

“We understand there are many factors that have contributed to the nationwide pilot shortage, including the early retirement of over 6,000 pilots during the pandemic,” Lewandowski continued. “This decision was made solely by the airline, primarily due to a shortage of regional pilots. Unfortunately, we understand this is a current continued trend in the aviation industry.”

Tuesday's SWAPA demonstration comes after a Spirit Airlines picket in April at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in response to canceled flights leaving pilots and employees stranded, sometimes for days without aid from the airline.

American Airlines’ senior specialist of global communications, Brian Metham, wrote by email that they have reduced their regional flying in response to the pilot shortage, one that could “loom for some time.”

Still, he said that they are taking “bold, innovative steps” to deal with the issue and that American’s three wholly owned regional carriers, Envoy Air, PSA Airlines and Piedmont Airlines, recently announced agreements to ensure that their regional network, American Eagle, is able to operate a more reliable schedule in the future.

While there is a shortage of regional pilots, Metham wrote that they are exceeding their pilot hiring goals.

“In fact, last year, American set out to hire 350 pilots and exceeded our goal by hiring 575,” Metham said. “This year, our goal is to hire 180 pilots/month, and we’re exceeding our goal having hired more than 1,000 pilots so far.”

Jack Parrish, owner of Dallas flight academy Parrish Aviation, has also put a positive spin on the situation, saying that the airline industry is booming for training the next generations of pilots despite the shortage.

“At our school we have also noticed an increase in interest and enrollment, partially due to the significant demand for pilots happening right now,” Parrish said by email.

“Recent pay raises in the industry for entry level jobs have gone from the $50,000 range to the $90,000 range in an attempt to attract pilots to competing airlines," he added. "Overall, it is a very positive experience for pilots in the industry. Obviously passengers are experiencing the negative side of things with cancelations but with the massive pay raises these will hopefully end soon."

Good time to become a pilot or not, it takes a while to learn how to fly and there remains a lack of qualified applicants, leaving flights canceled, pilots overworked and cities losing air travel business.

“The shortage will go away eventually,” Parrish wrote. “The pipeline coming up is growing to meet the shortage, however it may not go away for a while.”
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Kate Pezzulli, an editorial fellow for the Observer, is a graduate student at the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. Besides storytelling, she likes sailing, working on Jeeps, camping, potting and baking. Voted No. 1 friend in an apocalypse.
Contact: Kate Pezzulli