Commercial pilots with Delta Air Lines approved a working agreement with the company on Wednesday to provide them with a 34% pay raise.
The agreement will cost Delta more than $7 billion over four years as 15,000 pilots benefit from the deal. Some 78% of Delta pilots voted in favor of the agreement, which also provides staffers with more vacation time and benefits.
“This industry-leading contract is the direct result of the Delta pilots’ unity and resolve,” Delta Master Executive Council Chair Captain Darren Hartmann said in a statement. “Despite a two-year delay in negotiations due to COVID, we never lost sight of our goal to obtain significant across-the-board enhancements to our pilot working agreement.”
The deal is expected to set American industry standards for rival carriers like United Airlines and American Airlines. North America is the only region presently experiencing a pilot shortage since the aviation sectors in Europe and Asia have not fully recovered from lockdown mandates.
U.S. carriers currently lack some 12,000 pilots, even as 14,000 pilots will be forced to leave the workforce over the next five years because of a federal law mandating that they retire by 65 years old, according to a study by consulting group Oliver Wyman.
Several airlines encouraged pilots to retire as flight demand dropped in the spring of 2020: Delta, for instance, prompted about 2,000 pilots to depart from the company. Executives, meanwhile, decreased training and four-year degree requirements, introduced signing bonuses, and increased pay in response to the pilot shortage.
“While we feel as strongly as ever about the importance of education, there are highly qualified candidates, people who we would want to welcome to our Delta family, who have gained more than the equivalent of a college education through years of life and leadership experience,” the company said last year.
Pilot shortages and greater fuel expenses have contributed to rising airfare in the United States: ticket prices have increased nearly 26% year-over-year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average airfare during the second quarter of 2022 was $397, the highest level in eight years, according to an analysis from SmartAsset.
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Measures proposed by Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) would increase the commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67 to ease staffing pressures.
“Following the heavy-handed stupidity of government lockdowns, travel demand has naturally skyrocketed. However, Americans are now experiencing flight delays and cancellations on an unacceptable scale due to a worsening pilot shortage,” Roy asserted. “A key factor is a government-mandated retirement age that forces out thousands of our most qualified pilots every year.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has presided over several critical infrastructure problems during his two-year tenure, emphasized the need to support high school and college training programs to catalyze the entrance of new pilots into the workforce.
“The answer is not to keep the Baby Boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely,” he remarked. “The answer is to make sure we have as many and as good pilots ready to take their place, to have a stronger pipeline.”