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U.S. lawmakers ‘concerned’ airlines’ use of pandemic relief funds leading to pilot shortage

Lawmakers want to know how airlines have spent billions of dollars in pandemic-related funds.

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Members of congress recently sent a letter to the treasury department expressing concerns that those funds have been used to encourage people to retire, leading to a pilot shortage that’s impacted flights across the country.

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Just last week, another wave of canceled flights left travelers stranded.

Now, members of congress are raising serious questions about how government funding for the airlines is being used.

It comes after an aviation audit found some discrepancies.

“We are concerned that some airlines have used federal funds obtained during the pandemic to provide buyouts and early retirement packages for pilots, which may be exacerbating a shortage of commercial pilots,” lawmakers from the House Oversight Committee wrote in the letter.

The companies in question received $60-billion in pandemic relief funds.

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Lawmakers say after that funding came in, three of the leading U.S. airlines cut a substantial share of their workforce and urged employees to take early retirements.

Airline leaders have tried to fend off criticism before on how they’ve spent the money.

“We are doing our part as an industry to support the economy,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said.

Some members of Congress say they’re still not buying it, and are now calling for an Inspector General to look deeper.

Industry analysts estimate approximately 42-percent of current airline pilots will retire by 2026, and some pilots say they’re already being stretched to their limits.

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“We’re exhausted out there,” Pilot Dennis Tajer said. “The schedule is falling apart. They don’t have enough pilots connected to the airplanes.”

Members of Congress say they expect answers in the next 10 days. It’s not clear how far the Inspector General might take things next.

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