United Air to Restart Pilot Hiring in New Sign of Travel Rebound

United Airlines Holdings Inc. will resume pilot hiring as the carrier sees signs of a sales recovery amid expanding U.S. vaccination campaigns.

The carrier will begin with 300 pilots who received a conditional job offer last year or had a new-hire class that was canceled, Bryan Quigley, senior vice president of flight operations, told employees Thursday. The decision followed a year in which airlines slashed payrolls through retirement and voluntary leave offers while depending on billions of dollars in federal payroll aid.

The need for new pilots stems from “vaccination rates increasing and travel demand trending upwards,” Quigley said in a memo. Whether United continues adding pilots will depend on further recovery from the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The hiring plans point to a gathering travel rebound as the availability of three Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S. starts to unleash pent-up demand for flights. The recovery enabled airlines including United to stop burning cash in March. The Chicago-based carrier and American Airlines Group Inc. have said their planes are flying about 80% full.

Last year, U.S. airlines imposed hiring freezes and used voluntary offers to cut payrolls. Since September, United has seen about 1,000 pilots retire or take leave, Quigley said. The company’s plan to hire pilots was reported earlier by CNBC.

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