According to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, the airline will need more backup to avoid a repeat of recent service problems.
“We can’t run airlines like we did in 2019 because the system is under the most stress,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN’s Christine Lomans this week. “There are strains everywhere, be it security, FAA staffing, systems. Stress and tension means the system is tighter.”
“And when something happens, straws are much more likely to break a camel’s back. And you’ve seen that many times,” he said. It doesn’t take long to break.”
The challenges facing the industry were highlighted again on Wednesday when Southwest Airlines was hit particularly hard, with severe weather forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Winter storms hit cities with a strong Southwest presence, including Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cleveland.
Kirby said the only solution is for airlines to operate with more backup planes and backup staff than they had days before the pandemic.
“We’re seeing about a 10% increase in pilots per block hour. [of operation] than before the pandemic. As you know, he has 25% more planes in reserve, and overall, he has more buffers and resources to run the firewall when something happens,” he said.
It can be more expensive for airlines. However, a strong recovery in travel demand, combined with a still-shortage of seats, means fares are higher than before the pandemic.
Kirby claimed there were still bargains. “Airfare is often cheaper than taking an Uber to the airport,” he said.
But United’s own results, released last week, showed a 21% increase in what United passengers paid per mile flown in the fourth quarter compared to the same period in 2019, just before the pandemic. .
United and all airlines are scrambling to increase capacity and staff.
United has placed two major aircraft orders in the last two years. One of June 2021 was the biggest in the airline’s history. The order was for 200 Boeing 737 Max jets and 70 Airbus A321neo. Another in December was for at least 100 737 Max jets and 100 787 Dreamliners.
United also became the first U.S. airline to open its own pilot training school, the Avieto Academy, to help fill the pilot shortage.
“It’s a great opportunity to nurture the next generation,” Kirby said. “There were big barriers to entry. [We’re] You can give them access without having the financial means of your own. ”
Seventy percent of Aviate’s first graduates were women or people of color.
“Today, at United, 19 percent of our pilots are women or people of color, and we think that’s the highest of any airline in the country,” Kirby said.