Delta pilots union pushes for more hiring after summer of record overtime

The pilots union at Delta Air Lines is pushing the company to hire 900 to 1,000 more pilots by next summer, after pilots worked record amounts of overtime this summer.

"It's unsustainable to try to do this again next summer," said Chris Riggins, a Delta pilot and communications chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association at Delta.

In a memo to pilots last month, the union said various factors "coalesced to wreak havoc throughout the system." Hiring did not keep pace with retirements, and the union projects that the number of pilots will decline by the end of this year compared to mid-last year.

Meanwhile, Delta had a record level of traffic this summer as other airlines that fly the Boeing 737 Max canceled flights due to the grounding of the plane. It all amounted to what the union called "the perfect storm."

"We can do a better job going forward," Delta CEO Ed Bastian acknowledged. "We're going to increase our investment in our people, hiring sooner." He added that the company needs to hire at a rate of 5,000 to 7,000 people a year, including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, airport agents and reservations agents.

“We’re just going to be doing it earlier in the year, getting us prepared for next year sooner,” Bastian said. “We’re going to be increasing pilot staffing.”

According to the union, the number of pilots calling in fatigued has increased 65 percent year-over-year.

“We’re behind the power curve.... Let’s get the staffing right,” said Karen Miller, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association at Delta. “You have to have a cadre of pilots up and running” before summer 2020.

But with pilots in high demand and not enough pilots at the smaller regional carriers that feed into the larger airlines, "it's going to be difficult," Riggins acknowledged.

The issue arises as the pilots are in contract negotiations with Delta. Talks started earlier this year, with the Delta pilots' current labor contract becoming amendable at the end of this year.