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Dubai — It’s simple, really. No pilots, no flying. A shortage of aviators is already stinging airlines, particularly in the U.S. where the whiplash of the rapid pandemic drawdown of staff in 2020 and the swift rebound in traffic in 2021 has created a hiring and training crunch.

Big carriers aiming for 2019 levels of flying need the pilots to do so, retraining its existing crews who have moved up the seniority ranks, while recruiting as many qualified pilots as possible from the regional carriers and other sources. In the immediate future, that means a more fragile air travel system and threatens service to smaller communities served by the smallest regional jets.

Related: A very real pilot shortage threatens to upend the U.S. airline recovery

Longer term, and regardless of whether the flying public, labor unions or regulators are ready, the technological foundations for single-pilot operations (SPO) are already being laid today for a coming generation of regional aircraft and freighters, spurred by retirements, a clogged pipeline of new pilots and the search for the next step change in operating economics.

The shortage is leaving its mark today. According to a recent internal message to pilots at Horizon Air, the carrier expects up to 40% of its pilot corps — about 300 — to depart in the next year given the need for aviators at the mainline carriers.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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