Delta Air Lines plans to activate 400 full-time pilots by this summer, reflecting vaccine optimism could lead to a rebound in air travel, according to a company memo, seen by Reuters.
John Laughter, senior vice president of flight operations, told employees last week that the company is positioning itself for recovery. “We saw an opportunity to build back additional pilot staffing in advance of summer 2022 by bringing 400 affected pilots back to active flying status by this summer,” he said.
Laughter continued, “This is well ahead of when we originally estimated we would be able to convert pilots back to full flying status and is possible because of the PSP aid and available training capacity starting in March and April.”
“We’re cautiously optimistic that demand will increase as vaccinations roll out across the world, and we look forward to restoring all affected pilots back to full flying status as the recovery continues,” he added.
Laughter expects average cash burn could be around $10-$15 million per day in the first quarter as customer demand will remain depressed.
The upbeat comments come as Delta experienced the largest ever annual loss of $12 billion in 2020. The airline hopes to return to profitability in the second half of 2021 as vaccines may give people more confidence to travel on planes.
“We are encouraged that Delta has begun recalling pilots that the pandemic has sidelined,” the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement.
“As career-long stakeholders, pilots want to see Delta back where it was before the virus exploded, at the top of the industry,” the union added.
Despite the optimistic outlook, Delta shares were down more than 2% this afternoon as traders became spooked by new air travel restrictions in the US to mitigate the virus’ spread.
Other airline CEOs are not as optimistic as Delta.
Global aviation data firm Cirium determined airline passenger traffic worldwide plunged to a two-decade low in 2020, with a likely continuation of depressed travel through early 2021.
Upon the rebound in air travel, passengers should expect airlines and governments will require travelers to have “COVID passports” before flying.