Delta Air Lines plans to bring as many as 400 pilots back to active status by this upcoming summer to help meet the future demand for air travel.
"As we looked at ways to better position ourselves to support the projected 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," Delta's senior vice president of flight operations John Laughter wrote in a memo to pilots on January 21 that was seen by CNBC .
"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."
Delta and other U.S. airlines have begun receiving their second round of payroll support funding as part of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package agreed to last month. Delta will get $2.9 billion.
"We’re excited to be able to offer 400 full-time pilot positions now but it’s important to remember that the recovery road ahead of us will be long and choppy," added Laughter. "However, 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."
Delta CEO Ed Bastian recently expressed optimism that travel will recover in 2021. "While we continue to work to prevent the spread of the virus, I am optimistic that 2021 is going to be a year of recovery for our world thanks to the amazing scientists and researchers who have developed vaccines in an extraordinarily short period of time," he said in his monthly “Letter From Ed" sent to Delta customers last month.
Delta planned to furlough nearly 2,000 pilots last year but avoided it after agreeing with the union on a cost-cutting arrangement . The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents the airline's approximately 12,000 pilots, called Delta's decision to bring back hundreds of pilots encouraging and stated that "pilots want to see Delta back where it was before the virus exploded, at the top of the industry."