Many industries across the United States have struggled to maintain adequate staff in recent years. The commercial airline industry is no exception. Research shows that airline understaffing has a direct effect on passenger safety, and there are a number of different reasons this is true.
According to Fox Business, when airlines struggle with staffing issues, it may impact more than just wait times and the overall passenger experience. It may, too, raise the chances of a plane crash and passengers onboard either dying or suffering serious injuries.
Why airlines face understaffing issues
Many U.S. airlines are experiencing something called “fatigue pull” among their workforces. Fatigue pull means airline workers voluntarily remove themselves from their duties because they are combatting fatigue or exhaustion. A major U.S. airline lost 738 pilots as a result of fatigue pulls in October 2021, alone. This is a sharp increase from the monthly average when about 100 airline workers remove themselves from duties due to exhaustion or fatigue.
How understaffing impacts safety
Taking fatigued pilots off the schedule is an important step in enhancing passenger safety. However, there are also drawbacks associated with fatigue pulls. Many airlines are running flights without their most qualified and highly trained pilots, mechanics or flight attendants. This raises risks associated with airplane defects or similar hazards. At the same time, the demand for air travel is increasing, creating a host of new problems.
Aware of the issues involving airline understaffing and how they impact passenger safety, the Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter to major airlines in late summer of 2021. The letter outlined safety elements airlines should know about in the wake of ongoing industry changes.