The two primary pilot unions in the U.S. have come out strongly against a reported plan by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to introduce a bill that would raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots.
Both unions have also called on the FAA to reject a Republic Airways petition that would allow graduates of its Lift Academy flight-training school to co-pilot commercial airlines flights with 750 cockpit hours, half of the 1,500 hours that are currently required of graduates of all non-academic or non-military flight training programs.
Graham told Bloomberg on Wednesday that his bill would extend the mandatory pilot retirement age of 65 by a couple of years.
"We are working on it now," he told Bloomberg. "You've obviously got to pass a physical, so you've got to be physically fit, but there is no reason not to extend it a couple years."
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) issued statements Thursday opposing a change to the mandatory retirement age. ALPA is the largest U.S pilots union and counts United among its pilot groups. The APA represents American Airlines pilots.
"This discussion is yet another attempt to distract the conversation from the real issue, which is the failure of airlines to deliver on a key goal of the multibillion-dollar relief plan Congress provided them during the pandemic, which was to effectively manage air-service operations as travel resumes," ALPA president Joe DePete said. "ALPA strongly opposes this proposed legislation as there is no reason to change the retirement age today, and doing so would only increase costs for airlines as well as introduce unnecessary risks to passengers and crew alike."
Graham's effort comes as airlines are suspending routes, cutting capacity and pulling out of some small markets entirely due to an industrywide pilot shortage that has been intensified by the approximately 6,000 early retirement packages that mainline pilots took in 2020.
Spirit Airlines’ board on Thursday urged its shareholders to reject JetBlue Airways’ hostile takeover attempt, citing regulatory hurdles and accusing the airline of trying to derail its planned merger with fellow discount carrier Frontier Airlines.
JetBlue launched its hostile takeover bid on Monday after Spirit earlier this month rebuffed its surprise $33-a-share, all-cash acquisition offer. The tender offer from New York-based JetBlue was for $30 a share. JetBlue urged Spirit shareholders to turn down the combination with Frontier at a June 10 Spirit stockholders meeting.
Spirit’s board reviewed that offer and said in a statement Thursday that it determined it “is NOT in the best interests of Spirit and its stockholders.”
“Spirit believes JetBlue’s proposals and offer are a cynical attempt to disrupt Spirit’s merger with Frontier, which JetBlue views as a competitive threat,” Spirit said.
Frontier and Spirit in February announced a $2.9 billion cash-and-stock deal to combine into a discount airline behemoth. All three airlines fly Airbus narrow-body planes, with dozens more on order.
Either combination of the airlines would create the fifth-largest U.S. carrier.
JetBlue said Thursday that it is “no surprise that Spirit shareholders are getting more of the same from the Spirit Board,” accusing it of conflicts of interest. JetBlue also said Spirit’s board “continues to ignore the best interests of its shareholders by distorting the facts to distract from their flawed process and protect their inferior deal with Frontier.”
Industry Can’t Agree On How To Fix the Pilot Shortage
Even with support from special interest groups such as the Regional Airlines Association, or other regionals, like Mesa Airlines, Republic Airways’ bid to gain exemption from the 1,500-hour rule might be an uphill battle—or short-lived. In fact, all the discussion around it suggests that the next few years of airline travel in the U.S. could be on shaky ground.
After all, regional airlines in the U.S. operate 41 percent of all scheduled flights in the U.S. While they say their inability to attract pilots has forced numerous cancellations, requests to be exempted from the 1,500-hour requirement are being brushed aside.
The FAA hasn’t officially taken a position, though CNBC reports they have at least acknowledged the request.
“Anyone who doubts the value of the 1,500-hour rule should be reminded of its dramatically positive impact on the safety record of U.S. airlines,” he said. To drive his point, Ferguson added that “the period preceding the rule was marked by a series of fatal accidents. Since the rule took effect, major U.S. carriers have experienced a total of one in-flight fatality. The 1,500-hour rule must be preserved for safety’s sake.”
Voicing its support, ALPA tweeted, “We couldn’t agree more.” Contrary to Republic’s claim, it said the U.S. had produced a surplus of pilots.
800 Southwest Airlines Pilots Sign Up To Picket In Dallas
More than 800 Southwest Airlines pilots plan to demonstrate against the carrier next month amid increasingly tense contract negotiations heading into the summer travel season.
With a nationwide pilot shortage and heavy summer travel demand, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association says 800 pilots from Southwest have already committed to showing up at Dallas Love Field on June 21. The number could reach more than 1,000 by the time of the event.
“As far as we’re concerned, we have enough pilots,” said Casey Murray, president of the 9,500 member Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. “It’s a matter of connecting pilots to airplanes.”
The demonstration is expected to take place at the airport and along nearby Mockingbird Lane.
In a statement, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said “it respects the right of our employees to express their opinions, and we are dedicated to reaching an agreement that supports the needs of our pilots and the company.”