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Pilot Shortage? American Airlines Continues to Drop Flights, Routes

American Airlines is dropping several domestic and international routes amid a pilot shortage low demand

by Lark Gould

January 19, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Sachin Amjhad / Unsplash

American Airlines (AA) dropped three more routes this month, adding to a series of cuts pinned on pilot shortages and low demand over the past year.

Staff shortages have been in play since airlines took off again as vaccines diminished threats from COVID variants. For example, several system-hampering delays and cancellations over the holidays at Southwest Airlines were pegged on severe staff shortages.

However, the recent route cuts at AA are focused on regional destinations: Columbus, Georgia; Del Rio, Texas; and Long Beach, California. The legacy carrier will fly its last routes from Columbus and Del Rio on April 3 and Long Beach on February 28.

“In response to the regional pilot shortage affecting the airline industry and soft demand, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to end service in Columbus, Georgia (CSG), Del Rio, Texas (DRT), and Long Beach, California (LGB) this spring,” the airline said in a statement.

Photo: Courtesy of Blake Guidry / Unsplash

And while the cuts are relatively small for AA’s massive network of 5,000 or so daily flights, they are added to a series of cuts the company has been making over the past few years.

Those destination cuts include Fairbanks, Alaska; Arcata/Eureka, California; Oakland, California; New Haven, Connecticut; Columbus, Georgia; Dubuque, Iowa; Sioux City, Iowa; Duluth, Minnesota; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Meridian, Mississippi; Joplin, Missouri; Islip, New York; Ithaca and New Windsor, New York; Toledo, Ohio; Williamsport, Pennsylvania; and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Short on Pilots?

Staff shortages are, indeed, a force that is grounding airlines that operation glitches may already hamper. An Oxford Economics study released last summer estimated that 2.3 million fewer people were working in aviation globally by September 2021, compared with months around the start of the pandemic.

But pilot shortages? According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), “from January through November 2022, there were 8,805 commercial airline pilot certificates (ATP-MELs) issued, once again exceeding analyst forecasts and airline demand for new aviators—and putting the US on pace to break pilot production records this year.”

That number is compared to fewer than 6,000 such certificates in 2021 and about 7,000 in 2019. However, those numbers only sometimes tell the true story between airlines and pilots, which are often at odds over policies and payments and affecting operations with periodic walkouts and slowdowns.

Photo: American Airlines regional jets. Courtesy of Miguel Ángel Sanz / Unsplash

Soft demand is more likely the culprit in an industry that is continuously switching out aircraft, seats, routes, and frequencies to optimize profits and streamline systems.

Over the past year, massive flight cuts have occurred across the board for all major U.S. carriers, leaving no airline behind. In November of 2021, AA released plans for a large-scale overhaul for 2022, with intentions to drop 27 flight routes from its service schedule in the following six months. Delta Air Lines (DL) was quick to follow, announcing plans to cut five cities last fall. United Airlines (UA), too, stated it would be axing flights to some 17 regional cities due to low demand.

Miami to Tel Aviv Lopped, Atlanta to Tel Aviv Launched

This month, AA announced that it would discontinue its successful Miami-Tel Aviv service on March 24—a route launched less than two years ago. The MIA to TLV route was so popular the airline upped it to a daily frequency last October.

In a statement, AA noted, “as part of the continuous evaluation of our network, American Airlines has made the difficult decision to discontinue its Miami (MIA) – Tel Aviv (TLV) service effective March 24, 2023. We will continue to operate daily service to Tel Aviv from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK). We’re proactively reaching out to customers affected by these changes to offer alternate travel arrangements.”

Photo: Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Aircraft

Competition along the Tel Aviv route remains formidable, and AA has been the only US airline flying between MIA and TLV. EL AL, Israel’s flag carrier, offers five weekly flights between these cities with one of its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

Locally, however, Delta stepped up and was quick to fill in the gap with its recent decision to promote its relaunched Atlanta to Tel Aviv route in March—two days after AA axes the route from MIA.

United, too, is well established in this market, offering 28 weekly flights to Tel Aviv from four US gateways: Chicago (ORD), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), and Washington (IAD).

Starting March 26 (as opposed to the original May 10 announced date), Delta will launch thrice weekly, 12-14-hr service between Atlanta and Tel Aviv using its new flagship, the Airbus A350-900 aircraft. The new flight will depart Atlanta at 2 PM and arrive in Tel Aviv at 9:15 AM. Return flights depart at 11:30 AM, arriving in Atlanta at 5:55 PM.