Southwest Airlines to slow new pilot hires amid instructor shortage

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Southwest Airlines (LUV) has revised the number of pilots it expects to hire in 2022 owing to a shortage of flight instructors. 

A spokesperson from Southwest said that while the airline is still “actively recruiting” First Officers, it expects to hire fewer pilots than initially expected.  

According to a Bloomberg report, the Dallas-based low-cost carrier is looking to add 1,200 new First Officers in 2022, revised from an earlier estimation of 1,350.  

President of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, Casey Murray told Bloomberg that the instructor shortage had directly impacted the amount of training that can be provided.  

Murray added: “They are doing the absolute best they can, but they just don’t have the people for the amount of training needed.” 

While travel demand over the summer has a strong forecast, US airlines such as United Airlines, JetBlue Delta and Southwest have slightly lowered capacity plans over rising oil prices. 

Southwest, while protected from these costs through its fuel hedges, has also been facing staffing issues. 

In January 2022, the airline cut its schedule and cancelled more than 5,600 flights due to staffing challenges. The airline’s new chief executive, Bob Jordan told analysts that around 5,000 staff had tested positive for COVID-19 in the first three weeks of 2022. However, Jordan, who took office on February 1, 2022, added that Southwest aims to hire 8,000 staff in 2022. 

Southwest estimates that its first quarter capacity to be down 9-10% compared with 2019, against a previous estimation of 9%. 

The airline also said that it expects capacity to be down 4% across the entire year of 2022, when compared with 2019 

Following the downturn in travel during the height of the pandemic, a significant number of the airline’s employees retired or accepted buyouts. While the airline is not short of pilots, it has experienced employee shortfalls, including baggage handlers, gate agents and cabin cleaners. 

According to the Bloomberg report, the airline expects a 7% decrease in flying capacity for the first quarter of 2022, against 2019 levels, as staff shortages linger. 

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