RAA Sends Response Letter on Expiration of Stock Buyback Provision. Urges Immediate Action on Resolve Pilot Shortage to Address Disruptions and Preserve Air Service.

October 3, 2022
The Honorable Peter DeFazio
Chairman, Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure 
United States House of Representatives 
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Rick Larsen
Chairman, Subcommittee on Aviation
Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman DeFazio and Chairman Larsen:

I am writing to thank you for your correspondence regarding the expiration of the stock buyback provision in the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which RAA has shared with its members. I want to express our sincere appreciation for your leadership in establishing PSP and for defending the program against misunderstanding. I also wish to raise the urgent need for solutions to a severe pilot shortage that is disconnecting small communities across the country. 

As you state, PSP was truly worker-first; precluding involuntary pay cuts or furloughs, capping executive pay, and limiting expenditure of funds to non-executive pay and benefits. The program also required recipients to uphold basic air service to all communities, which protected vulnerable small communities during the pandemic’s acute stages. PSP kept airline workers off local unemployment rolls and avoided the furloughs that would have otherwise followed such conditions. As you know, PSP was oversubscribed, and airlines received a pro-rated share equivalent to about 60% of their payroll costs, subject to certain additional reductions such as repayable warrants. Nonetheless, PSP allowed airlines to uphold service and avoid involuntary furloughs and pay cuts as the law required. While major airlines and their labor partners brokered voluntary early retirements packages for pilots within two years of retirement, such early exits were virtually zero at regional airlines. 

As air travel soars in the pandemic’s recovery, larger airlines have been drawing unprecedented numbers of well-trained, experienced pilots from regional airlines. In turn, regional airlines have turned to a new pilot pipeline that was inadequate even before the pandemic influences. Over the past decade, the FAA qualified an average of 6,335 new pilots per year, a number that was well short of industry need. Covid shutdowns further constrained the pipeline of new pilot candidates, slowing certifications to 3,999 pilots in 2020 and 4,928 in 2021. Looking ahead, half of the nation’s qualified pilots face mandatory retirement within 15 years and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the ten-year job outlook for the airline and commercial pilots is 18,100 openings each year. We may see a higher-than-usual number of new pilots—potentially, 10,000—this year, as Covid-disrupted qualifications resume. However, even this atypically high output remains below need. Under a renewed and worsened pilot shortage, over 500 regional aircraft have been parked and regional air service has been dramatically cut. As an additional complexity, as Captains and Captain-ready first officers are being drawn in disproportionate numbers, the shortage could ultimately slow first officer hiring, despite an overall shortage. There simply aren’t enough Captains to meet the demand for flights. 

The net result of the pilot shortage and its downstream impacts is reduced or eliminated service to smaller communities. Fully two thirds of our country rely exclusively on regional airlines and are too small to sustain air service by larger mainline aircraft. This service has not been replaced by major airlines; instead, small towns are being disconnected. In the first half of 2022, versus the same time in 2019: 

  • 332 (72%) airports experienced air service loss, with an average loss of 22.3% 
  • 250 airports have lost more than 10% of their flights
  • 211 airports have lost more than 15% of their flights 
  • 125 airports have lost more than 25% of their flights 
  • 84 airports have lost more than 33% of their flights 
  • 37 airports have lost more than half their flights 
  • 17 airports have lost more than 70% of their flights  
  • 8 airports have lost all air service

This data looks back on air service, not forward, which means the latest air service announcements have yet to present in this data. 

Without immediate policy intervention, the pilot shortage will continue to worsen. Steps have already been taken to address this crisis, but more must be done. Through the 2018 FAA Reauthorization, the Committee made incremental workforce development investments and took steps to measure long-term need. Industry has likewise made enormous investments in pilot compensation, career flow, tuition support and more. Today, first year, first officers at most regional airlines can expect to earn close to $100,000 per year. The BLS reports that the median annual wage for an airline and commercial pilots in scheduled air transportation was $207,200 as of May 2021, making it one of the highest paying occupations in the country. Unfortunately, these high paying jobs remain out of reach for most Americans, who have no way of overcoming the high cost and inaccessibility of flight education. Under today’s inequitable system, pilots without wealth or the credit needed for private loans to afford training cannot access the career. Congressional leadership is urgently needed to address these inequities, which not only narrow the supply of pilots but also lessen diversity in the profession. 

We implore the Committee to give this matter your most urgent attention, and to act immediately and decisively to provide equitable access and financial support for flight education and training. Proposed solutions include ensuring future pilots can use student loans to cover their real flight education costs, where today those without wealth or access to private capital simply cannot access training. We also urge the Committee to encourage the FAA to utilize its authority to improve pilot training by supporting industry-provided structured training pathways, under the Congressional requirement that the Agency do so only when it is assured these offerings enhance safety. This will allow airlines to assume more of the cost of a pilots’ training burden; more importantly, it will enable more pilots to access demonstrably superior training pathways.

While these foundational solutions are critical, they will take time to implement. We therefore urge the Committee to give due consideration to near-term solutions. A streamlined visa process should allow qualified, foreign pilots to join U.S. airlines, similar to the process for other highly skilled professions. Increasing the pilot retirement age to 67 years, given stringent medical regulations which ensure all pilots are healthy and fit to fly, can be done safely, as evidenced by numerous pilots safely flying in part 135 operations today. 

In the face of unprecedented challenges to the regional airline industry and prolonged harm to the small communities we serve, we commit to continuing all efforts to widen the career pipeline and to offer safe, collaborative solutions that support workers and communities. Please do not hesitate to reach out if I can personally provide more information or support to you in this or any matter. 

Thank you,


Faye Malarkey Black

President & CEO

CC: Congressman Adam Smith, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, Congressman Albio Sires, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Congresswoman Alma Adams, Congressman Andrê Carson, Congressman Andy Levin, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux, Congressman Colin Allred, Congressman Conor Lamb, Congresswoman Cori Bush, Congressman Danny Davis, Congressman David Cicilline, Congressman Dean Phillips, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Congressman Donald Payne Jr., Congressman Donald Norcross, Congressman Donald Beyer, Congressman Dwight Evans, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Congressman Gerald Connolly, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Congresswoman Haley Stevens, Congressman Hank Johnson, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Congressman Jamie Raskin, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Congressman Jared Huffman, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Jesûs Garcia, Congressman Joe Courtney, Congressman John Garamendi, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congresswoman Katie Porter, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Congresswoman Marie Newman, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, Congressman Mark Pocan, Congressman Mark Takano, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragân, Congresswoman Nikema Williams, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Congressman Raul Grijalva, Congressman Ro Khanna, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro, Congressman Salud Carbajal, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Congressman Seth Moulton, Congresswoman Sharice Davids, Congresswoman Shiela Cherfilus McCormick, Congressman Stephen Lynch, Congressman Steve Cohen, Congressman Tom Malinowski, and Congressman Troy Carter