Optimism For Air Travel As Delta Plans To Bring Back 400 PiIots

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Delta Pilots at Capitol Hill
File photo of Delta Pilots at Capitol Hill. Source: Delta/Instagram

Delta Airlines has plans to bring back 400 pilots to active flying status this summer signalling optimism for air travel.

In a note, Delta’s senior vice president John Laughter of flight operations stated that the airline saw an opportunity to build back additional pilot staffing in advance of summer 2022 by bringing 400 affected pilots back to active flying status by this summer, airlive.net reported.

However, this process can take months as new training is necessary due to the retirement of some aircraft types and reduced flying amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re excited to be able to offer 400 full-time pilot positions now, but it’s important to remember that the recovery road ahead of us will be long and choppy,” said Mr. Laughter in the memo sent to pilots last week.

Cautiously Optimistic: Delta head

“However, we’re cautiously optimistic that demand will increase as vaccinations roll out across the world, and we look forward to restoring all affected pilots to full flying status as the recovery continues.”

Delta had put 1,713 pilots on reduced pay, with no flying requirement after the airline warned that hundreds of pilots would be furloughed if a cost-cutting plan wasn’t in place.

In a statement, the Air Line Pilots Association said it was encouraged by Delta’s decision saying: “As career-long stakeholders, pilots want to see Delta back where it was before the virus exploded, at the top of the industry.”

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian is against the idea of government mandated negative COVID-19 tests for domestic travelers, he told CNN.

“I think it’d be a horrible idea, for a lot of reasons,” Mr. Bastian told CNN’s Poppy Harlow about the rule under consideration by the Biden administration, which has been rejected by other travel industry executives.

Mr. Bastian called air travel the safest form of transportation and said incidents of virus spread aboard planes is ‘absolutely minimal.’ Mandatory testing for international flights to the U.S. began last month.

“It will not keep domestic flyers safer,” Bastian told Harlow. “If anything, it’s going to keep people away from what they need to do, in terms of starting to get back out, not just for essential travel, but people need to start reclaiming their lives. And taking testing resources away from those truly in need, I think, would be a terrible decision.”

Bastian said the U.S. air industry is carrying over a million people a day on average and growing, and requiring mandated COVID-19 tests for domestic travelers would take about 10 percent of the testing resources the country needs for sick people.

“It’s hard to get tests,” he said. “There’s days of delay still. I think it’d be a logistical nightmare. It would set not just the transportation and travel industry back, but the whole hospitality sector, the hotels, it would set us back probably another year in the recovery.”

Delta launched a vaccination center at its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta this week for qualified Georgia-based Delta employees age 65 and older, but Bastian told Harlow it’s “far too early” to discuss mandating vaccines for employees, an issue recently raised by United Airlines.

“Most of our employees can’t even get the vaccines, we don’t have the supplies yet,” he said. “We’re going to strongly encourage vaccinations. I know our people understand how important it is to restore confidence back in travel and getting vaccinated is one of those steps that we’ll take. I think that’s a decision for later on as we go through the course of the vaccination efforts.”

Delta is prioritizing the safety of its passengers by continuing to block middle seats through April 30, the only U.S. carrier to do so, the airline announced Monday.

“We know the middle seat is one of the things that people really value when they make the decision, in the face of a pandemic, to travel on Delta,” Bastian told Harlow. “It’s expensive, there’s no question about it. But, interestingly, in the most recent fourth quarter we reported a couple weeks ago, Delta actually had more revenue on average than any of our competitors averaged in the industry — despite the fact we had 20 percent fewer seats available for sale. So people are prioritizing, as they should, their health and safety and comfort as they travel, and we’re getting a meaningful premium for travel on Delta.”