Captain Dennis Tajer has been a pilot with American for more than 20 years. He told DailyMail.com that his furloughed colleagues won’t be back in the skies until August – and even then there will still be shortages
An American Airlines pilot says 1,600 of his colleagues who were furloughed in October last year won’t be flying again until August because they have to redo their training after so long out of the skies, worsening the staff shortage that caused the airline to cancel more than 300 flights this weekend.
Captain Dennis Tajer has been a pilot with American for more than 20 years. He is also the spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association – the union which represents American’s 15,000 pilots.
On Monday, Capt. Tajer told DailyMail.com that the shortages over the weekend could have been avoided if American had worked with pilots to rearrange their schedules without forcing them to overdo their hours.
He said that it is the airline’s fault they haven’t been able to replace the 1,600 pilots that were furloughed last year, or the 1,000 that took early retirement.
Now, those pilots who were not flying for months must undergo extensive training before they can go back up in the air. It is part of an industry law that after three months out of the sky, pilots must train again.
But there is huge backlog to training, and not all of those pilots will return. Some have gone on to work as delivery drivers for FedEx or UPS, Tajer said.
What’s more, thousands more pilots are expected to retire next year and with no new recruits able to gain their flying hours before taking jobs, the problem is likely to get worse.
‘It’s surreal. This time last year we were canceling flights because there weren’t enough passengers. Now we’re canceling flights because there aren’t enough pilots,’ Tajer told DailyMail.com.
American canceled 300 flights over the weekend. A spokesman told DailyMail.com on Monday they couldn’t guarantee more flights would not be canceled later this summer but said furloughed pilots would be finished with their training again in June
He doesn’t believe that the shortages are down entirely to the COVID-19 furloughs, but says the airline is unwilling to work with the pilots to plug the holes.
‘Instead of coming to us and working with us, they’ve just surrendered to reducing the schedule.
‘There’s a scheduling problem in that pilots can’t accept overtime work legally without maxing out their flying hours.
‘A lot of people who want to help aren’t provided the flexibility to help so it narrows the players to a very small margin.
‘But this is the same issue as American was having in 2019- this is not specifically a COVID problem. We firmly believe we could have sustained the schedule but they didn’t consult it. I don’t know if their plates were just too full or what,’ he said.
‘The first thing AA did was furlough 1,600 pilots in October. No one else did that.
‘Those pilots are still awaiting training and they won’t be ready to fly by the end of August. Legally, if you have had a break of three months you have to be trained up again. So the school house is at full tint.
‘Then you have the 1,000 who took early retirement. They’ve got to fill those positions which takes months and months.
Travel is booming again as people feel confident enough to take to the skies. But airlines are starting to buckle under the pressure, with so many pilots out of commission due to furloughs and retraining
Recent TSA numbers show how travel is rebounding in 2021 as more Americans get vaccinated
‘We saw this a mile away and we said, “you might have a problem here.” They said. “No, we got it.”
‘American Airlines took an outlier in that they furloughed staff when no one else did. Now, here we are,’ he said.
American Airlines told DailyMail.com that the recalled pilots who were furloughed will have completed their training by June.
A spokesman didn’t specify when they would be back in the air, but said: ‘The first few weeks of June have brought unprecedented weather to our largest hubs, heavily impacting our operation and causing delays, canceled flights and disruptions to crew member schedules and our customers’ plans.
‘That, combined with the labor shortages some of our vendors are contending with and the incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand, has led us to build in additional resilience and certainty to our operation by adjusting a fraction of our scheduled flying through mid-July.’
She couldn’t guarantee more flights would not be canceled, saying: ‘At this time, we’re focused on June and the first half of July, but we’ll continue to review and make any needed changes.’
Tajer says that shortages will be noticed across the board.
‘This will be an industry issue over the next couple of years. It’ll be more systemic and based on the institution of pilot flow.’
Tajer said of the weather explanation: ‘Welcome to the big leagues. You don’t plan a major airline around one weekend of bad weather.’