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Pilot shortage stalls potential Duluth-to-Denver flight back to 2023 | Duluth News Tribune

In July, when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the airport a $750,000 grant to help establish the route, airport officials had hoped for flights between Duluth and Denver, a major hub to destinations on the West Coast, to begin next year.

But a pilot shortage is making it difficult for any airline to add new routes, or even staff current routes.

“I think the crew shortage issue has made launching in ‘22 less likely,” Tom Werner, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, said in an interview with the News Tribune on Wednesday. “It’s much more likely that we’re looking at a 2023 launch of that service.”

Through 2040, North America will need 130,000 pilots and even more technicians and cabin crew members, aircraft manufacturer Boeing said in its Pilot and Technician Outlook 2021-2040.

Although the pilot shortage preceded COVID-19, the pandemic worsened it.

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, airline passenger numbers nosedived. Airlines grounded planes, laid off employees and offered buyouts.

“Many junior pilots lost their jobs last year, leading some to change careers and leave the industry altogether,” Boeing’s report said. “Concurrently, many experienced pilots accepted voluntary early retirement packages, and those that remain will be unable to fly for commercial airlines once they reach the mandatory retirement age.”

As passengers return to flying, airlines have struggled to find enough staff to accommodate them.

Locally, United Airlines once operated up to three daily non-stop flights from Duluth to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. But…

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