By Marc Sellouk, Founder and CEO of Flewber
For years now, even prior to the pandemic, the stories about pilot shortages have been everywhere. From front page headlines to the nightly news. The only time it seems that we don’t hear about pilot shortages is in Monday morning airline statements, which always seem to blame the thousands of cancellations and delays from the prior weekend on weather conditions that nobody knew of before the statement’s release.
Now enter the pilot unions who are suddenly stating that the shortage doesn’t even exist, and a political class that is more than likely being lobbied by the airlines, unions or both. Both are trying to reduce the amount of flight hours required to become a commercial pilot as well as extend the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 68; a move that would fly in the face of international rules and relegate the most experienced pilots to regional domestic flights, thus blocking the entrance ramp for new pilots. What you have left is a meandering industry that while in decline, is still drunk on its long-begotten power and a public that is left paying the price of increased cost, reduced services and all to frequent delays and cancellations.
As the owner of a private airline and someone who knows firsthand that finding a four-leaf clover is sometimes easier than finding a qualified pilot, I see no reason to jump into this latest debate between the pilot unions and the airlines. To me it’s simply a finger pointing issue wrapped around a negotiating plot, and most of us don’t have a dog in that fight. I know that I don’t. To me, the issue has become bigger than a pilot shortage. For as bad of an effect a pilot shortage can have on the industry, its effect should be one that is finite and handled with proper transparent planning and schedule adjustments.
What I fear is that we’re witnessing an industry nearing a crisis. A crisis cloaked by a shroud of blame and “not me-isms” rather than one wrapped in a transparent veil of public acknowledgment and planning. If our commercial airline industry fails, even as imperfect as it is, we lose a main pillar of support for our daily way of life. The question is, will someone in the commercial airline industry be the first to openly admit that there is a problem, heading all too quickly toward crisis – and propose solutions, or is it time for the public to start pleading for intervention and seeking alternatives wherever they may exist?
For many to date, private aviation has been a viable alternative to commercial flying. But even at the pace that companies like my own are trying to be innovators, by making private aviation more affordable and within the reach of mainstream travelers, the private aviation industry as a whole is not currently set up to be the life raft for a storm of this magnitude. If the commercial sector falters in the near term, to the extent that looks possible, millions of American passengers will be left stranded and without options. Sadly, an event of that magnitude, an event that could have been prevented, would wreak havoc on our country.
There’s an old political saying that “people vote with their wallets not their minds.” It could be time for people to fly that way as well. Not by focusing on the cheapest ticket price but rather by, and wherever possible, only rewarding those carriers that are trying to make changes for the better, with their business. This alone will certainly not be enough to fix the industry, but it could act as an eye opener for those airlines mired in their own stagnant mediocracy. At this point, we have nothing to lose for trying and doing nothing is no longer an option.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.