(Adds comment on regionals)
By Karen Jacobs
WASHINGTON, April 3 The chief executive of
discount carrier Spirit Airlines said on Thursday he
has no concerns about pilot availability in United States for
the next couple of years, but is worried about staffing in the
"We're actively hiring pilots now, and we are currently not
having a problem attracting qualified pilots," Spirit CEO Ben
Baldanza said in an interview at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's
aviation summit in Washington.
The Miramar, Florida-based carrier has "a pretty strong
pipeline of pilot availability" right now, he said.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules that took effect
last summer require U.S. pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight
time to operate commercial jets or cargo planes, up from 250
hours previously required for co-pilots. Airlines also must
comply with additional rules that took effect this year
requiring more rest for U.S. pilots.
Baldanza said the rules on pilot experience would mainly
hurt regional airlines. Regional carrier Republic Airways
Holdings said in February that its pre-tax income would
be reduced this year because it decided not to extend leases on
27 planes due to a scarcity of qualified pilots.
"I do think it's reasonable to expect that the regional
industry will get smaller, and there will be fewer airlines and
fewer regional airplanes and that's going to mean the same thing
for smaller cities that consolidation did for big cities,"
The U.S. Government Accountability Office warned in February
that regional airlines are having a hard time finding pilots
because of low wages and the rules mandating more experience for
Baldanza also said Spirit, which offers low base fares but
charges for many other options, hopes to acquire gates at
airports in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles that American
Airlines Group agreed to relinquish as part of its
merger agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
"We've put our case forward and that process is being
reviewed now, and we're hopeful that we're able to at least get
some of those assets," Baldanza said.
"I would be very disappointed if we win nothing out of that.
I would be surprised if we won all of it."
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs, editing by Ros Krasny, Susan Heavey
and Richard Chang)