Congress works to fix pilot shortage amid Southwest protests

U.S.

(NewsNation) — In recent days, a number of issues at airports across the nation have forced thousands of flight cancellations and delays, stranding travelers.

Among the problems: a massive pilot shortage.

In Dallas Tuesday, 1,300 Southwest Airlines pilots were on the picket line, fed up with working conditions. They say scheduling practices — coupled with a pilot shortage — put the carrier at risk for more cancellations amid the summer travel crunch.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, joined “Morning in America” to discuss the effort behind easing travel headaches.

Cherfilus-McCormick said Congress has been putting forth legislation to make sure that they can secure and have enough funding to stop the crisis.

“What that looks like is, we just passed the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which puts funding toward not only just training more pilots, but also creating more technologies, and advancing more technology. So we can have more planes actually flying so we can accommodate everyone,” she said.

The pilot shortage is a result of the pandemic. When no one was traveling for the better part of a year, airlines cut staffing and their fleets.

A study by Flight Global and Goose Recruitment found as many as one-third of all pilots were still on furlough, and another 20% had either been fired or had been forced into early retirement. Industry experts expect that by the end of the decade, as many as 60,000 pilots will be needed in order to fly planes.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the government may force airlines to hire more staff, but questions arise on how the government would be able to actually force airlines to this.

“Well, what we’re looking at is training. If we can start training a new class of pilots coming in, then we can meet the needs,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “So we put aside the funding for that. And we also had money in the infrastructure bill, also trying to have more people coming into the workforce to assist the demand in aviation right now.”

She said that their goal is to set aside the funding to assist their aviation partners, and to make airlines more transparent with their passengers.

“We also want transparency. We want to make sure that the funding is actually being used properly. We want to make sure that our pilots — (who) are overworked, stressed and fatigued — are actually getting relief that they need,” Cherfilus-McCormick said.

Making matters worse: Airlines are phasing out certain planes from their fleets. This means pilots who had flown, say, a 747 for years now, have to get certified on its replacement, leading to a pilot training backlog.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Big 3 carriers in the U.S. — Delta, American and United — have all entirely phased out, or plan to phase out, smaller 50-seat CRJ200s. Last year, American pulled the Embraer E140 from its fleet entirely.

All of these aircraft are smaller, regional jets that newer pilots typically start their careers flying. With those planes retiring, it’s causing flight schools to alter their curriculum for future pilots.

Cherfilus-McCormick said that their department is working hard to ensure that there is a solution to the travel issues.

“We just want to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can do to partner, and make sure that this is not increasing. And that’s what our goal is: to make sure that our customers and, as we’re flying as the pandemic is being raised, that no one’s being stranded with their family and their children at the airport —  especially when we’re actually putting forth funding,” she said.

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