An American pilot has claimed US flights are not safe for passengers as there is an “inhumane level” of pressure on pilots amid an intensifying nationwide pilot shortage.
American flyers need to be “concerned” about their safety because “there is a problem here”, warned Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for Texas-based pilots union Allied Pilots Association.
A nationwide pilot shortage has become the latest flashpoint of anger among pilots and staff in the country’s embattled airline industry, sparking fresh concerns in the travel sector.
Thousands of flights have been cancelled or hit by long delays since the last week as airlines grappled to meet travel demand after millions of job cuts, buyouts during the Covid pandemic and thousands of retirements.
More than 1,300 Southwest airlines pilots picketed on Tuesday in Dallas, Texas to raise issues of pilot fatigue, stress and stalled contract negotiations.
Speaking on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Mr Tajer said: “They need to be concerned because I’m on TV as a representative for our union saying, ‘There’s a problem here’.”
“I don’t fly the airplane unless I’m fit to fly and the airplane’s ready to go. But the fact that you’re pushing us and pushing us… This is not a safety culture. The FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] should come in and look at this,” he said.
He went on to say: “When an airline is under financial duress, they [FAA] put them under special monitoring status.”
Issuing an urgent warning, he said the FAA ought to intervene and look at airlines trying to fly more airplanes than they can actually fly and building these “schedules to an inhumane level”.
He said ultimately the industry was “letting down our passengers and squandering our investors’ money”.
“It’s gotta stop,” he added.
With respect to the pilot shortage, the FAA told Newsweek: “We have strict duty and rest rules for pilots. When tensions increase between management and labor, the FAA increases its oversight.”
On Tuesday, American Airlines, which operates flights to more than 350 destinations, said it would cease operations in three airports – Ithaca and Islip in New York and Toledo in Ohio – from 7 September.
The airline was the only major operator out of Toledo. It blamed the decision on the pilot shortage.
Roughly 14,000 flights were cancelled across the US on Friday and the Juneteenth weekend.
On Sunday, more than 4,200 flights were delayed and nearly 900 were canceled as of 7pm ET, according to FlightAware, which tracks flights in real time.
Airlines have blamed the shortage on a travel uptick after Covid infection numbers receded in recent months, prompting a large number of Americans to plan trips for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
Professionals in the industry said poor wages and working conditions along with near-daily flight reassignments have led to distress among pilots.
Capt Casey A Murray, a pilot and the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said almost 30 per cent of pilots at the airline are reassigned daily, including on long-distance flights, leaving them overwhelmed.
“If you’re going to continue to misuse us, you’re going to continue to be short of staffing,” he said.