United Doubles Down on Pilot Hiring, Sets New Record

Amid a recent flurry of headlines around slowdowns in hiring among some airlines, United is keeping its foot on the gas.

A United 777-200 in San Francisco [Photo: AirlineGeeks/Ben Suskind]

Amid a recent flurry of headlines around slowdowns in hiring among some airlines, United is keeping its foot on the gas. The Chicago-based carrier just hired a record number of pilots in October.

According to data from FAPA – a pilot career advisory group that’s been tracking hiring trends across 13 major U.S. airlines for over 30 years – United hired 270 pilots in October 2023, the carrier’s highest amount of new hires in a single month. This boils down to nearly 70 new hires each week.

Last year, the airline hired 2,500 pilots, making 2022 a record-setting year for new aviators on United’s property. The 270 new hires in October bring United’s total to 2,296 new pilots so far this year.

In a statement, United told AirlineGeeks that October 2023 was one of the biggest months for pilot hiring in its history.

“In support of our United Next plan, we set out to hire 2,300 pilots this year alone and are on track to exceed that total. We hired over 260 new pilots in October, which is one of [our] highest months ever, and are already working on filling new hire pilot classes in early 2024,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

United pilot hiring trends since January 2019. [Data: FAPA.aero]

Across the board, major U.S. airline pilot hiring trended down slightly in September and October 2023. Ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit announced it would be halting all pilot hiring indefinitely. Even for pilots already on their properties, FedEx and UPS management recently told pilots to look for jobs at regional airlines.

So far in 2023, United has been hiring an average of 227 new pilots each month, the highest of any airline in FAPA’s data. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is a close second at 224 new hires.

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on pilot training throughput, airlines have been forced to think a bit outside the box to attract and retain new aviators. United has been trying to weather this storm with its Aviate Academy in Arizona.

According to The Denver Post, the airline has also made a $100 million investment to expand its pilot training center in Denver, Colo., which is the largest of its kind worldwide. In addition, some of the carrier’s new hires can bid for higher-paying Boeing 777 and 787 first officer positions after completing initial training.

Not Out of the Woods

Even with a record number of first officers entering its ranks, United and its peers still aren’t out of the woods just yet. A broader pilot shortage has pivoted to a captain shortage where retaining pilots in the left seat has become increasingly more challenging.

United CEO Scott Kirby acknowledged the issues surrounding captain hiring in the company’s Q2 2023 earnings call according to Reuters. “It’s the first time that I’ve ever known it to happen in the airline industry,” he said. “It is going to impact capacity in the fourth quarter.”

Regional carriers can hire so-called ‘direct entry captains’ with the right number of hours. Mainline airlines are restricted to hiring only first officers, but upgrade times to the left seat have become increasingly shorter in recent years. A January 2023 report in Aero Crew News showed that some Delta first officers could move to the left seat in as little as 4.5 months.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared on AirlineGeeks.com.

Ryan Ewing
Ryan EwingContributor
Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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