Southwest Air Slows Pilot Hiring on Instructor Shortfall

Southwest Air Slows Pilot Hiring on Instructor Shortfall

Southwest Airlines Co. is slowing plans to hire pilots as the carrier grapples with a shortage of flight instructors.

The company expects to bring on more than 1,200 first officers this year, down 148 from its earlier projection, a spokesman said Tuesday. Southwest “still needs and is actively recruiting” for the job.

Flight instructors primarily oversee classroom curriculum and training on equipment and flight simulators for new pilots and for those upgrading to captain. They also supervise periodic required training for the airline’s aviators.

“It’s a bottleneck,” Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said in an interview. “They are doing the absolute best they can, but they just don’t have the people for the amount of training needed.”

While Southwest isn’t short of pilots, the situation heightens uncertainty after the Dallas-based carrier has already faced shortages of workers from baggage handlers to gate agents to cabin cleaners. A large number of employees retired or accepted buyouts when travel demand collapsed during the height of the pandemic. The airline’s flying capacity this quarter will decline 7% from 2019 levels due in part to staffing challenges.

Southwest, which has about 8,300 aviators, is facing competition from pilot training companies like CAE Inc. and FlightSafety International, Murray said. The airline and some other carriers have had to vie with companies like Inc. and CVS Health Corp. for entry-level workers.

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