Airlines will continue to struggle to schedule crew, pilots for fall flights, expert predicts

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It’s hard to schedule workers when the future is so uncertain.

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Airlines are reportedly struggling to create autumn schedules for flight crews as they await news on a stimulus bill that will decide whether or not thousands of airline workers get laid off.

Dennis Tajer, a captain for American Airlines and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, spoke with Fox Business about the situation. He compared creating schedules for airline workers to conducting an orchestra, where a lot of different moving pieces have to be accounted for. Pilots and crewmembers fly all over the country (or world) and the airlines have to coordinate the schedules to make sure everything makes sense.

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TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
AALAMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC.12.77-0.56-4.23%
DALDELTA AIR LINES INC.28.11-0.84-2.92%
LUVSOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO.34.05-0.85-2.44%
UALUNITED AIRLINES HLDG.34.68-1.50-4.15%

When it comes to the CARES Act, Tajer explained, without any certainty, the airlines have to plan for reduction. This can result in smaller and medium-sized airports and cities seeing a reduction (or complete loss) in access to air travel. The airlines can’t schedule pilots to their routes if they aren’t sure if they’ll still be working in October.

A commercial jet takes off with the sun shining behind the aircraft. (iStock) (iStock)

Without funding from the CARES Act, thousands of workers could be laid off on Oct. 1.

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Tajer compared the current situation to throwing a dart at a dartboard — while blindfolded.

There are also long term complications to consider. According to Tajer, due to the nature of the work and travel involved, a single airline job supports about 13 other jobs.

And once a pilot is laid off, getting them back to work can be a complicated process. Due to the nature of the coronavirus pandemic, the airlines don’t have a specific date for when things will start to return to normal, making it difficult to plan ahead. Adding to that, it can take several months to bring pilots back into work after they’ve been laid off.

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Tajer believes things will start to look more promising when a vaccine arrives, but right now, there are a lot of "what ifs." And if airlines are forced to wait for a vaccine before proceeding with schedules, it will be months before they can have the necessary amount of pilots in the air to meet demand.

If demand for flying returns, Tajer says, and the airlines don’t have pilots ready to fly, there could be a pilot shortage that lasts through the fall.

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