While the US airlines face a daunting pilot shortage threatening their operations, one leading commuter airline in the US is charting a course to tackle the issue head-on.
While there are glimmers of hope with a slight easing of the situation over the past year, the shortfall remains a significant hurdle, especially for smaller US markets.
The pilot shortfall is not just a temporary blip; experts like Geoff Murray from Oliver Wyman warn of its persistence well into the 2030s.
The continued growth of major US airlines will serve as an additional headwind for regional airlines attempting to bridge the gap. In the next decade, a whopping 75% of major airlines’ new pilots will be sourced from regional airlines, further straining these carriers.
The Regional Airline Association advocates legislative action, such as raising the mandatory pilot retirement age to 67, but congressional progress has been slow.
Efforts to address the issue include improving testing protocols for high school aviation programs, facilitating the transition of military mechanics into civilian aviation, and exploring tax incentives for pilot training and FAA reauthorization.
As regional airlines continue to grapple with a significant pilot shortage, legacy airlines are looking to solve the problem by taking pilot training into their own hands.
Fortunately, Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM) has stepped in to address the pilot shortage and other challenges related to air travel following the acquisition of Southern Airways Express, a regional airline.
Surf Air Mobility is a Los Angeles-based regional air mobility platform that is focused on expanding regional air travel and transforming flying through the power of electrification.
Surf Air‘s strategic pilot pipeline agreement with SkyWest, the largest regional airline in the US, gives them a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting pilots.
Navigating the Pilot Shortage and Reshaping Regional Air Travel
Surf Air‘s unique cadet program is the brainchild behind its success amidst pilot shortages. Operating under a Part 135 certification, the airline can welcome pilots with 500 hours, as opposed to the industry-standard 1,500 hours, offering a rapid pathway to career progression. Upon joining the program, pilots commit to stay until they amass 1,800 flight hours. In the initial stages, up to the 1,200-hour mark, they serve as first officers, and advance to captain as they accrue additional hours.
“It’s a career jumpstart,” said Surf Air Mobility CEO Stan Little, who described the whole pipeline as “pilot creation” rather than “retention.” On completion of specific milestones, these pilots find opportunities awaiting at SkyWest and other associate airlines.
While the partnership with SkyWest addresses the immediate crisis in the aviation space, Surf Air Mobility Inc. (NYSE:SRFM) is primarily focused on revolutionizing regional air travel by harnessing the potential of electrification.
To achieve this, Surf Air is collaborating with commercial partners to develop electrified powertrain technology for upgrading existing fleets with electric propulsion and introducing electric aircraft on a large scale to the market in order to lower costs and emissions.
Following its debut on the public market, Surf Air Mobility confirmed its exclusive relationship with Textron Aviation, a subsidiary of Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT), which includes an order of 100 Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircrafts.
Surf Air Mobility expects deliveries of the first 20 Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircrafts from Textron Aviation to begin in the first half of 2024, marking a key initial step in Surf Air Mobility‘s pursuit of developing a fleet of electrified Cessna Grand Caravans, with the goal of obtaining FAA certification in 2026.
These aircraft will undergo conversion to incorporate Surf Air Mobility‘s proprietary electric or hybrid-electric powertrain technology.
Surf Air Mobility intends to make electrified aircrafts accessible to a wide range of operators, both existing and new, with the aim of providing customers with the advantages of cost-effective, low-emission air travel on a large scale. Additionally, Surf Air Mobility will serve as the exclusive provider of its proprietary battery electric and hybrid electric powertrain technology for the Cessna Grand Caravan to Textron Aviation.
“We know from our experience that people are looking for faster, affordable, and cleaner regional travel, and we are building the ecosystem to accelerate the industry’s adoption of electric flight,” explained Sudhin Shahani, co-founder of Surf Air Mobility. “We believe that significantly reducing the emissions from this category of aircraft will be the biggest step we can take toward de-carbonization in this decade.”
Surf Air Mobility envisions employing both electric and hybrid-electric Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft throughout its network, connecting more airports through short-haul direct services. Simultaneously, the company aims to establish a regional mass transport platform that fosters sustainable connectivity among communities across North America.
The anticipated advantages of the new electrified architecture include a substantial reduction in direct operating costs, with targets ranging from 25% to 50%, and a significant decrease in direct carbon emissions, with targets ranging from 50% to 100%, all while maintaining performance levels similar to the current models. Without the need for charging stations in the case of hybrid-electric powertrain versions, these aircraft have the potential to be operational at over 5,000 public use airports across the United States.
Surf Air Mobility is also partnering with leading AI platform developer Palantir Technologies (NYSE: PLTR) to help develop the definitive AI software and operator tools for the regional air mobility (RAM) industry.
Featured Image @ Surf Air Mobility
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