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American Airlines Keeps Making Major Cuts

It's not good news for some passengers and it's devastating for others as the airline fights a major problem.
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American Airlines' decision to halt service to three different regional airports may be the responsible one in the current economic climate. 

American Airlines  (AAL) - Get Free Report, which is the largest U.S. carrier by employees, says that it "has made the difficult decision" to stop its services to Columbus, Ga.; Del Rio, Texas; and Long Beach, Calif., this spring. 

Since the start of the pandemic, American has dropped service to a total of 19 U.S. cities. 

The reason for the downsized national footprint? Staffing shortages and soft demand. 

But not just any staff. American specifically says the pilot shortage "affecting the airline industry" is forcing it to make the cuts it announced over the weekend. 

While the effect of passengers will be minor, only a total of eight American Airlines-affiliated planes depart daily from Columbus, Del Rio, and Long Beach, Fox Business reported. The news comes as another blow to an airline industry that has been reeling from staffing issues for the past few years.

American Airlines Lead

 

Airlines vs. Staffing Shortages

Airlines struggled to meet demand in 2022 as demand for flights ticked up from the pandemic doldrums of 2020 and 2021. 

During the first six months of 2022, 3.2% of U.S. flights were canceled and 24% were delayed, according to information released by the Department of Transportation. This is "up from a 2.1% cancellation rate and 17.2% delay percentage during the same period in 2019,” as noted by FlightAware.

Borders reopening between the U.S., Europe, and Australia, combined with increased domestic demand came to a head during the busy summer travel season, leading to scenes of utter chaos at major airports across the country. 

But there were warnings that this wouldn't just be a summer problem months ago. 

"Airlines — including American Airlines — are still suffering from this mismanagement," Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association told the CBS News travel summit in September. "There is so much uncertainty in the fall and winter schedule, that we cannot be silent."

An Oxford Economics study estimated that there were 2.3 million fewer people working in aviation globally by September 2021 compared to the beginning of the pandemic, FT reported

Does American Airlines Have a Reason for Optimism?

While scheduling and service turbulence will probably be an issue going forward, the Air Line Pilots Association recently shared data that could be cause for optimism. 

Just before Christmas, the ALPA said that the supply of new pilots is stronger than demand, citing Federal Aviation Administration data. 

According to the FAA, there were 8,805 new commercial airline pilot certificates issued through the first 11 months of 2022. That is compared to fewer than 6,000 in 2021 and about 7,000 in 2019. 

The number of certified flight instructors rose by 10% to 86,774 last year.

"The pilot-production pipeline is strong, the aviation industry continues its recovery — and it has never been a better time to become a professional aviator," said Captain Joe DePete, ALPA president. 

Airplane manufacturing giant Boeing  (BA) - Get Free Report estimates demand for 602,000 pilots globally and 128,000 new pilots in North America (U.S. and Canada). 

But there is still a push and pull between pilots and their airlines, including American. 

Last week, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's 15,000 pilots, called changes to cockpit procedures "unwise and unsafe."

Days later, American Airlines was on the defensive, disagreeing with the findings of a U.S. Department of Labor investigation that found the carrier retaliated against flight attendants who reported worker illnesses caused by toxic fumes entering aircraft cabins. 

The DOL said that employees who filed complaints about illnesses were docked attendance points and discouraged from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses.

"The safety of our team members and customers is always American’s top priority," American Airlines told FOX Business. "We respectfully disagree with the investigator’s findings and have scheduled a conference with OSHA to further discuss the investigation."