By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — United Airlines said Friday it plans to hire approximately 300 pilots, citing increasing vaccination rates and growing travel demand.

The Chicago-based airline said it will start by hiring pilots who received conditional job offers or had a new class hire date that was canceled last year, after the pandemic significantly reduced air travel.

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“I hope this exciting and welcome news removes any hesitation you may have had about expanding our Flight Operations family. The fact that we are able to begin hiring so quickly – and ahead of our competitors – was made possible, in part, by the Pandemic Recovery Agreement. Thank you to our entire team and ALPA for their contributions to this important agreement,” Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations, told employees in a letter.

Since September, approximately 1,000 United Airlines pilots have retired or taken voluntary leave. Federal payroll aid to airlines blocked furloughs for airlines.

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United said the number of new pilots needed will depend on their recovery from the pandemic.

Airlines report that bookings have increased in recent weeks, and the government says at least 1 million travelers a day have gone through airport checkpoints for the past three weeks. Still, U.S. air travel remains down nearly half from the same period in 2019.

United CEO Scott Kirby said this week that domestic leisure travel demand “has almost entirely recovered,” but critical business and international travel remain severely depressed.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

CBS 2 Chicago Staff