MIAMI – On Thursday, United Airlines (UA) released a memo stating it expects to furlough as many as 2,850 Pilots. Although passenger numbers are steadily growing, airlines are still finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, having to make the toughest decisions.

Job cuts have unfortunately become the new norm. However, this cut is especially significant because it is the largest of the kind in the airline’s history. These cuts will affect just over 20% of UA’s current Pilot workforce.

Captain Cliff Pittman. United Airlines Boeing 787 Inaugural Flight. Photo: Airways Files

Unprecedented Pilot Reductions

United’s Pilot union stated that the job cuts were “tragic” and pointed out that other airlines have allowed for job reductions via voluntary means. In contrast, competitors Delta Air Lines (DL) and American Airlines (AA) announced smaller cuts with 1,900 and 1,600 respectively.

The announcement came from United’s Senior Vice President of flight operations, Bryan Quigley. In the memo, Quigley informed Pilots that, “Our numbers are based on the current travel demand for the remainder of the year and our anticipated flying schedule.”

He also made it clear that these cuts intend to secure the “long term viability” for the airline. The VP hopes he can, “welcome back many of those that we have to say goodbye to this year.”

United Airlines Boeing 777-222(ER) N227UA. Photo: Hiro Nishikura

Uncertain Federal Aid

While some valid opposition is coming from both employees and their unions across the industry, the monthly furloughs will continue until the airlines have thinned themselves to a more efficient size. The major factor in this most recent wave of furloughs is federal aid, (or a lack thereof).

These cuts are largely due to the October 1 deadline when a US25$bn federal aid package ends. With Congress still unable to come to an agreement, the future of this aid is uncertain. The only certainty is that this industry will recover. The real question is when.

Featured image: United Airlines Boeing 787. Photo: © United Airlines.