Southwest Airlines will reduce by half the amount of time on a turbine engine required for new hire pilots, making it simpler for pilots of regional airlines and other experienced commercial pilots to join the airline.
Southwest Airlines, located in Dallas, used to prefer pilots with 1,000 hours of experience on a turboprop or turbine engine aircraft, but last week it informed staff that it was reducing that requirement to 500 hours.
The less stringent standards come amid a nationwide pilot shortage, despite the claims of major airlines that they have an abundance of pilots. Regional airlines, who have been raising pay and providing other incentives because to the shortage, have seen this.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the lowered standards.
“We’re having no trouble hiring, including having no trouble hiring pilots,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said during the company’s fourth quarter 2022 earnings call last month.
Southwest hired over 1,000 pilots in 2022, according to Jordan, and has plans to hire 1,700 more this year. According to him, the airline has had some training capacity challenges, which has left it short on qualified pilots to operate aircraft.
The firm will face stiff competition from every other airline in the sector if it decides to hire 1,700 pilots this year.
Southwest does not use regional airlines, in contrast to American, United, Alaska, and Delta Air Lines. In order to hire pilots, Southwest has agreements with several airlines, notably Skywest Airlines.
Southwest’s criteria adjustment mandates time spent flying on a jet or turboprop plane but does not eliminate the FAA-mandated 1,500 hours for pilots to obtain their Air Transport Pilot certificate. Thus, new Southwest hires will effectively have had to fly for a regional airline, a cargo carrier, or in some other professional role.
“Our robust and rigorous flight operations training program has not changed and all current and future first officer candidates must pass all elements of the curriculum prior to flying for Southwest,” Southwest spokesman Chris Perry said in a statement.
“As this recruiting change is aligned with hiring at or above FAA requirements, we’ll continue selecting competitively-qualified, world-class aviators who demonstrate extensive flight experience, professionalism, and Southwest’s values.”
Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association, stated that all newly hired pilots must undergo more stringent training.
“Southwest said they are going to maintain the standards, but they need to train up all new pilots to meet the standards,” he said.
Southwest is the only one of the big four airlines that has not reached a tentative agreement with the 10,000-member pilot union with whom it is negotiating a new contract.
Because Southwest doesn’t have wide-body planes, which are more expensive at other airlines, Murray claimed that Southwest may be at a disadvantage hiring pilots. Another wage increase for pilots is the eight-year transition from first officer to captain.