Horizon Pilots Challenge Shortage Narrative

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Horizon Pilots sent a letter over the weekend to the board of directors of the Alaska Air Group, and members of the media, challenging the company’s version of how the pilot shortage came to pass. Horizon Airlines is a regional feeder owned by the Alaska Air Group, and all its flights are marketed and sold by Alaska Airlines. Horizon has been among the regional carriers most visibly affected by a shortage of pilots, cancelling 700 flights per month after giving up some routes to be flown by SkyWest. In a feature by the Seattle Times last month, Horizon CEO Dave Campbell portrays the pilot hiring problems confronted by the company as emblematic of the challenges facing the regional airline industry broadly. The company’s pilot union disagrees and sees the problem as a result of poor management. “The Delta invasion, the Virgin acquisition – and also the pilot shortage – prove conclusively that Alaska Air Group is strategically adrift and unable to accurately size up the future, much less act on those same conclusions,” they say.

The pilots take special objection to the pay cut demanded by the company in 2016 to compete with other regional carriers for work from Alaska Airlines, which they say hit Horizon’s ability to recruit and retain especially hard. “In return for our concessions, Horizon and Alaska Air Group guaranteed to us, by signed agreement, that Horizon would become the exclusive operator for 30+ new regional jets. By late 2016, with the ink on the contract barely dry, Horizon became unable to adequately staff and operate the airline,” say the pilots. SkyWest was contracted by Alaska Airlines to fly the new Embraer 175s.

CEO Campbell, for his part, told the Seattle Times and employees that “the buck stops with me,” promising to solve the problem by keeping pay for Horizon pilots at the top of the industry. Campbell told the Seattle Times that Horizon has 33 E175s on order with options for 30 more. He wants to hire enough pilots to keep all 63 jets flying.

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