Nationwide pilot shortage affects summer schedule

Cape Air and other airlines are adapting to meet demand with a limited number of pilots.

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Cape Air is cutting back on some of its routes because of the pilot shortage. — Courtesy CapeAir.com

The national pilot shortage has spread its wings all the way to the Cape and Islands. Fortunately, Martha’s Vineyard Airport’s ability to serve air passengers will not be greatly impacted by this trend.

“I don’t anticipate a drastic change in flight availability for the Vineyard. But the changing climate and the pilot shortage may change the situation over time,” Martha’s Vineyard Airport director Geoff Freeman told The Times.

Freeman said he has not been officially advised by Cape Air, the airline that flies to and from the airport year-round, of “drastic changes” to flights. However, Cape Air will not be servicing flights to John F. Kennedy Airport or White Plains in New York. The airport is awaiting further updates from the airline.

Comparatively, the Nantucket Current reported that Cape Air confirmed it cut back flights on the Nantucket-Hyannis route because of a lack of pilots. The Current reported that Cape Air’s June schedule on this route showed one to two flights a day, much smaller than the eight or more flights a day scheduled in the past. 

“Basically, a lot of the airlines are losing their pilots to retirement over the next few years. The number of pilots who are being trained and going up in the airlines is not enough to meet the demands,” Freeman told The Times about the national pilot shortage. He said this was also affected by the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that impacted many industries, such as stay-at-home orders and the lack of workers to fill positions. 

Cape Air station manager Colin Ewing, who provides on-the-ground operations and customer service for the airline, concurred with Freeman. He said all airlines are affected nationwide by the shortage of trained pilots. 

“The bigger and major airlines have plenty of open positions, and have been hiring as fast as they can. Some of the Cape Air [pilots] have jumped ship to major ones,” Ewing said. These difficulties with hiring and retaining pilots have led Cape Air to create incentives for pilots who fly with them. One example is a gateway program that allows pilots to transition to JetBlue or Republic Airways after flying with Cape Air for a certain amount of time, which Ewing said has helped.

The current Cape Air schedule has fewer flights than before the pandemic began, according to Ewing. This is to make a manageable schedule that would not have too many cancellations. Advance flight bookings show demand is strong for this upcoming summer. 

Another airline that made cuts to its schedule is JetBlue. Freeman told the Times that JetBlue is “curtailing many destinations,” including flights to and from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. 

“This was a relatively new service that was added last year,” Freeman told the Times. He said this route is planned to return in September. 

Delta Airlines and American Airlines, which are much larger airlines, have submitted their draft schedules, and Freeman said they are “consistent with last year.” The one difference is American Airlines’ addition of O’Hare International Airport to its flight routes to and from Martha’s Vineyard this summer.

Ewing believes that eventually, the pilot shortage situation will stabilize. He has been with Cape Air for 30 years, and has seen pilot shortages before. “We adapt to things,” Ewing said. 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I do fly Cape Air occasionally but it won’t be the pilot shortage that keeps me from flying Cape Air, it’s the crazy prices!! BEFORE the pandemic, I paid $229 (don’t forget tax too) for a one way ticket from Bos to MVY.
    I only paid $300 for my flight from Bos to my destination ROUND TRIP.
    It’s a trade off, how bad do you want to save money or get there quickly but it doesn’t excuse price gouging.

  2. The Pilot shortage is a complex issue. To pin point the exact reason is an exercise in futility.
    What too many airline industry executives try to say is that it’s the mandatory age of retirement, or that the glamour appeal has disappeared, or that other careers are more appealing.

    The Bottom line is that the executive’s killed the pilot career by deploying the Regional Jets to their subsidiaries 30 years ago. They should have required the new Captains at their major carriers first upgrade to the regional jets. Instead they sent them to the regionals. Then to make it worse they cut the wages to a seriously low level keeping the First Officers at poverty levels of pay. Family’s could no longer justify sending their kids to aviation academies that cost over $150,000.00 only to make $19,000.00 to $24,000.00 a year depending upon the regional. The promotion of a First Officer to Captian takes years. Especially when at a regional airline, and the pay is still minimal.

    The 1500 hour requirement is also a major problem. Requiring a pilot to accumulate 1500hrs compounds the entire reasoning for implementing it in the first place. Safety! Horse feathers!

    The majority of 1500 hour pilots qualified to take the mandatory ATP/CTP course and ATP written Exam have been sitting in a the left seat without any control input experience since they achieved their CFI, MEI, and CFII ratings. That’s right, their students are doing the flying. The instructor is a Data Base of aviation rules, techniques, and book knowledge, but he/she is only logging hours as and instructor. This means little to no flight control inputs. For approximately 18 months from becoming a Certified Flight Instructor, CFI, this individual has been a glorified passenger. Accumulating their hours by piggy backing off their students. Again flight instructor pay is abysmal.

    Saftey being the foundation to a safe flight department is a smoke screen. The truth is safety is being completely undermined. Experience is the only thing that creates Safety. So by bringing a new 250 hour commercial pilot into the aviation industry to learn from seasoned pilots would make way more sense, unfortunately this has been undermined too.

    Another problem is the existing number of Neanderthal Training Departments that try to play gate keeper to the industry. They weed out way too many candidates based on their previous years, or decades of surplus numbers of candidates. Not every candidate today learns the same. Especially when technology is part of the Aircraft’s Flight Control systems.

    I can go on and on…..

    The shortage is a problem. Money talks, BS Walks. You need to start paying much better wages in the Aviation industry to pilots at every level of experience. The
    “1500 hours” requirement is good if it’s real flying experience, but as a flight instructor it’s just not all that.

    Start putting 250 hour commercial pilots in flight crews to gain valuable experience from their seasoned counterparts. Pay a living wage to these guys and you might just solve the problems of the shortages.

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