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Airline Cancels All Routes To Hawaii This Summer Due To Pilot Shortage

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Sun Country Airlines have been forced to make a drastic decision in light of labor issues, by canceling all flights between continental U.S. and Honolulu, Hawaii, for the 2022 travel season. The airline claims it has been suffering with a shortage of pilots.

Airline passengers have received the following message in their email:

“Due to the current pilot shortage impacting all U.S. airlines, Sun Country has regrettably elected to suspend service to Honolulu, HI (HNL) for the 2022 travel season. Passengers who were booked on impacted flights will automatically be refunded to their original form of payment for their reservation.”

Sun Airlines plane on gate

It may sound weird that an airline decided to cut off its flight to one of the U.S. top summer destinations right during peak travel season, but they are not alone. Flight cancellations, rescheduling, and logistical issues on airlines have been rampant since tourists have started traveling again following the gradual lifting of COVID restrictions.

Hawaii was chosen by Sun Country Airlines to be cut also due to the long-distance nature of the flight, which due to the high fuel prices affecting the market, make it expansive to fly such long routes. Also due to that Fairbanks, Alaska, has also been cut from the airline’s summer schedule.

Empty airplane cockpit

Demands for new pilots in the aviation industry has been steadily increasing over the years. According to Statista, an estimated 130,000 pilots are expected to be given the air duties between 2021-2040 only in North America. However, the supply does not seem to be keeping pace with the demands. 

A study done by Oliver Wyman showed that there would be a noticeable shortage of pilots in North America by 2029.

Southwest airlines plane

The Allied Pilots Association (APA), and unions of many airlines, including Southwest and Delta airlines, are saying pilots are overstressed, suffering from intense fatigue, and putting flights at risk, due to poor scheduling practices that airlines have been adopting because of the shortage of qualified pilots.

The route to Hawaii is a famous contender for pilot fatigue, as flights last from 6 hours (West coast) to 13 hours (East coast), which require relief pilots on board and long resting periods after each flight.

Pilots in cockpit

For people in the industry however, this comes as no surprise. According to Maximilian Buerger, managing director of AFM.Aero, the current shortage as we know it may have started as far back as 9/11, aggravated by the 2008 financial crisis and new regulations that greatly increase the amount of training required to operate commercial aircrafts in the US.

The pandemic was just the last straw on top of a chain of problems, when airlines started using early retirement to cut back workforce and costs. Also pilots and especially prospective pilots started being wary of their career stability, as any new COVID wave could mean the end of their jobs. 

Pilots with mask

Being a pilot has lost its glamor in the US, and added to that the insane costs (around $100,000) and time (around 5 years) of training to become a pilot with a starting salary much lower then IT or banking, and we can start to see the logic behind the current staff shortage plaguing airlines in this post-pandemic tourism recovery that is growing faster than expected.

Many airlines have started increasing incentives to draw more applicants to the market. Higher wages, training cost reductions, and scholarships have started to become a norm across all large carriers, with Alaska and United even opening their own flight schools with reduced costs and loans.

Many united airlines planes

United’s CEO concurs that the problem of shortage of pilots predates the pandemic and has got mostly to do with the cumbersome years of training and the magnitude of initial investment that needs to be poured in.

At United, we’re convinced that the root of the problem is that it costs over $100,000 and takes five or more years to obtain all the training to become eligible to fly for a major airline

Scott Kirby on his LinkedIn post

Acknowledging the deficit that they will be soon facing, Scott has pledged to hire 10,000 new pilots through 2030 with their own state of the art flight training school. 

Flight cancelled on departures board

Of course, these measures will not be enough to eradicate the shortage immediately, as training takes time. For now the only thing that can be done is fighting to keep their existing staff, with some airlines such as Delta increasing fares to give them a pay raise. But unfortunately it is probable we will see more rescheduling and cancellations as airlines are forced to prioritize routes, even to high demand destinations such as Hawaii.


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