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United is postponing a pilot class due to coronavirus amid an imminent shortage (UAL)

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United is postponing a pilot class due to coronavirus amid an imminent shortage (UAL)

United Airlines will postpone a training class for new pilot recruits due to the impact the coronavirus has had on the airline industry.The move comes less than a month after United announced a new flight training school, part of an effort to recruit pilots in light of an expected pilot shortage.The coronavirus has forced airlines…

United is postponing a pilot class due to coronavirus amid an imminent shortage (UAL)

Just weeks after announcing a new initiative to recruit and train new pilots, United Airlines said it will postpone the start date for a new hiring class of pilots.

The airline said it would postpone a training class for 23 new pilots, CNBC first reported, as travel demand has dropped significantly due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Airlines, including United, have been forced to significantly cut back on capacity, suspending a variety of international flights and forecasting possible reductions to domestic schedules, as the virus continues to spread rapidly across the globe.

New hotspots are developing and being discovered virtually overnight. Last week, Italy became the latest focal point, with numerous cases reported in the north of the country. All US airlines have offered flexibility to passengers set to travel to the country, while Delta became the first to suspend flights into Milan.

As airlines have seen demand for domestic travel drop — partly as passengers become concerned about exposure to the virus on airplanes and in airports, rather than just from traveling to hotspots — several airlines have begun offering waivers of change and cancellation fees on any flight, in an effort to convince nervous customers to book travel. 

United has cancelled flights to China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, while Delta became the first US airline to cancel a flight to Italy.

The International Air Transport Association, otherwise known as the IATA, said recently that the coronavirus could lead to the airline industry’s worst year since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

United’s move to suspend pilot training is particularly notable given the airline’s February announcement that it would begin operating its own branded pilot training academy in September. The flight school, a part of United’s Aviate recruitment, training, and development program, is designed to help the airline recruit potential pilots for its regional Express carriers  with the offer of a mainline job at a later point.

The specter of a worldwide shortage of trained and qualified commercial pilots has loomed in recent years, with a large contingent of pilots — many of whom began flying in the military — near retirement age.

Mainline air carriers like United remain attractive and will likely always have a large pool of applicants, but smaller regional airlines, which build substantial portions of the larger airlines’ domestic and short-range feeder networks, are more likely to encounter difficulties.

United is also offering a month off with reduced pay to pilots who typically fly the wide-body planes used on the airline’s Asia routes. The airline suspended its investor day, planned for this week in New York, because it “does not believe it is practical to expect that it can have a productive conversation focused on its long-term strategy next week,” the airline said in a statement.

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