American Airlines' wholly-owned regional subsidiary PSA Airlines plans to resume new pilot hiring this year, a positive sign for an industry that was ravaged last year by the coronavirus pandemic but is now preparing to ramp up flying.
As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out, airlines are hoping for a significant improvement in domestic air travel by the summer, even if demand does not fully yet recoup pre-pandemic levels.
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"As we continue to work with American Airlines to identify our flying needs this year, and in combination with recent attrition numbers for our Pilot group, we will be initiating hiring efforts for First Officer team members," Keith Stamper, vice president of PSA's air operations, said in a memo reviewed by Reuters.
A PSA spokeswoman confirmed the plans, which also include new flight attendant hiring, but said: "We are declining disclosing specific hiring numbers at this time."
For years, airlines including PSA were aggressively recruiting to address projected pilot shortages during an era of industry growth, but hiring and training programs were halted last year as the pandemic forced thousands of furloughs.
Dayton, Ohio-based PSA, which operates domestic routes for American, furloughed 723 pilots and 323 flight attendants last October when an initial COVID-19 relief plan for U.S. airlines expired. Employees were recalled last month following a fresh $15 billion in government aid for the struggling industry.
Major airlines like American rely on regional carriers, which have a cheaper workforce, to operate a large share of their domestic networks.
Over time, regional pilots work their way up to the majors, which are preparing for a wave of retirements in coming years even after many pilots took early departure deals during the pandemic.
American, for example, expects over 11,149 pilots to reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 between 2021 and 2041, with 455 expected to retire this year alone, according to internal company projections updated on Jan. 18.