Filling Southwest's pilot shortage can't come soon enough for CEO Bob Jordan, who sees the staffing challenges as the biggest barrier preventing the carrier from further taking advantage of massive travel demand.
Southwest Airlines reported a record setting third quarter on Thursday in spite of a pilot shortage that’s preventing the carrier from running its full pre-pandemic flight schedules.
“In the other areas, we aren’t perfect, but we’re nearly staffed. We are just short on pilots to fly all our aircraft,” said CEO Bob Jordan said Thursday on CNBC program Squawk Box. Pilot shortages were one of the factors that slowed down the U.S. airline industry’s recovery this summer.
Jordan added Southwest isn’t lacking qualified candidates to fill its pilot shortages, noting all of its training centers are full. But they acknowledge they wouldn’t be ready until late next year.
“If we had all the pilots that we needed, we could probably fly 5 to 8 percent more (available seat miles) in capacity.”
Jordan spoke after Southwest reported record revenue of $6.2 billion in its third quarter earnings call on Thursday. The company also recorded a net income of $277 million. Southwest’s successful quarter came despite the carrier experiencing a 2 percent crop in capacity from the same timeframe in 2019.
“It’s a great quarter,” Jordan said. “We’ve got record revenues. We’ve got record passengers. We tied for a record load factor.”
He added that Southwest expects the trends boosting the company’s revenue to continue into the fourth quarter. The carrier expects revenue for the fourth quarter to jump up to 17 percent from 2019 levels, citing a bump in post-Labor Day business travel.
Southwest is preparing for a surge in bookings while it deals with delays in the delivery of its Boeing aircraft. However, Jordan believes the issue of whether the planemaker can meet a late December deadline for certification of new MAX 7 shouldn’t affect aircraft deliveries to Southwest.
“Even though we are off our delivery plan with Boeing, because we are still pilot constrained, it is not affecting our capacity,” he said.
Southwest plans to expand its first quarter capacity by 10 percent and its second quarter capacity by 14 percent. The company also expects to hit 90 percent of its pre-pandemic flight schedule by next summer and fully restore it by December.
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Photo credit: Southwest Airlines is experiencing a pilot shortage that's preventing the carrier from running as many flights as it would like. Rafael Cosquiere / Pexels