Dramatic pilot shortage slowing air travel

The number of flight delays and cancellations was an improvement over the busy Father's Day / Juneteenth holiday weekend that affected untold travel plans. Over the four-day weekend, roughly 20,000 flights were canceled or delayed. 

Weather was part of the problem, as well as some staffing issues that include a dramatic shortage of pilots. 

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The problem has been simmering, and occasionally bubbling over for months, as air travel rebounds from the COVID-slowdown, and airlines struggle to keep up.

Travelers can expect to be greeted by crowded terminals during the busy summer season. 
Just last weekend, the TSA says it screened millions of passengers who frequently found their schedules delayed and canceled.

Janine Iannarelli owns a Houston-based international private aircraft broker and says the problem is not going away, "I do not expect an improvement for the foreseeable future."

Early Tuesday, the flight-tracking website FlightAware noted more than 10,000 delays and cancellations worldwide with nearly 2,000 of them in the United States. 

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A few of them originated in Houston, while many more could be found in Dallas, which is a popular hub for connections. More often than not, there's not enough crew available to fly the planes.

At Dallas Love Field, Southwest Airlines pilots walked an informational picket-line complaining of being overworked and understaffed. 

"We're tired of saying 'I'm sorry, on every flight'," said one person.

Industry estimates suggest a need for roughly 300,000 commercial and corporate pilots over the next 10 years to accommodate retirements that started before the pandemic and staff cutbacks during the slowdown. 

"The crew, themselves, have to be trained and qualified within the arcraft and the training centers are booked solid," says Iannerelli.

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While new crews are being developed, experts say news that American Airlines is cutting back by ending service to three cities may become more common. 

"Airlines are going to have trim further in terms of routes and times in order to keep crew within their duty time, and not overwork them by asking them to come in, and do as much overtime as they possibly can," says Iannerelli.

If there's a silver lining, it's for people interested in a career as a pilot as opportunities will be available.

Travelers meantime can expect more of the same. They would do well to build more time in their travel schedules to accommodate the inevitable delays.