At least one in five commercial jets for major US regional airlines was on the ground, according to Planespotters data compiled by Air Data News.
Among the nearly 1,700 planes from 11 carriers that work with the country’s major airlines, 376 were listed as parked this week.
The number of aircraft represents 22% of the fleet, a worrying sign due to the high cost of keeping such an important asset idle.
The main cause is known, the lack of pilots in the market, due to early retirements. As a result, there are no personnel willing to accept the salaries proposed by regional airlines, known for less attractive working conditions.
The company with the most grounded aircraft is GoJet, which is part of the United Express network. Of the 67 CRJ-700s it owns, 33 were not flying, or almost half of them.
Mesa Airlines is another worrying case. The independent regional has 54 of the 90 jets parked, including CRJ-900 and E175 models.
The company has just had 10% of its shares acquired by United Airlines, which closed a partnership agreement after Mesa was dismissed by rival American Airlines in December.
The condition is that United will use 38 CRJ-900s for a period of five years in its network, but to do so it will remove the same number of E175 jets from its fleet.
Salary increase would have triggered crisis
For some analysts, the labor shortage faced by US regional airlines worsened just after American Airlines raised wages at subsidiaries Envoy, Piedmont and PSA Airlines.
Although the movement reduced the problems with idle planes, it ended up increasing costs to a level not supported by the industry.
Rates have gotten so high that a first officer at one of these regionals can earn $90 an hour while a low-cost Frontier or Spirit crew member earns around $62 an hour.
So that the regional segment, responsible for feeding the hubs of American, Delta and United, does not break, some of them are investing in airlines in order to keep them alive. This is what United itself did, which, in addition to Mesa, also owns 40% of CommuteAir and 19% of Republic Airways.
The regional GoJet itself has been trying to attract crew members with a generous benefits package that includes direct passage to United Airlines after two years.