pilots airlines and universities partner to make pilotsCompass Airlines, subsidiary of Trans States Holdings, is partnering with ATP flight schools to provide tuition reimbursement for those who work for Compass on reaching the minimums required (typically 1,500 hours).  Compass is looking to hire 40 pilots per month a number which is challenged by an on-going pilot shortage.  This is the latest in a number of unusual paths from the airlines to become a professional pilot.

ExpressJet is now partnering with Polk State College.  Their pilots will act as mentors, a program which we think has immense value.  Mentorship is a key component of any aviation career.  The advisory board for the program will also include some ExpressJet employees.  While not a tuition program or gateway program (yet) this shows that some airlines are attempting to be proactive about recruiting issues. (You can find out more about the ExpressJet program here.)

Already, Cape Air, ExpressJet and JetBlue Airways have an established Gateway program that allows pilots to work their way up the ranks to ultimately become a pilot for JetBlue.  Their partnership extends into the university system as it includes candidates from a number of institutions like Embry Riddle, UND, Auburn and others.

These are likely not the last such programs to streamline the pilot recruitment pipeline and to defray some of the substantial costs of becoming a pilot. It will be interesting to see what develops over the course of the coming years.  JetBlue recently internally announced what sounds like an ab initio program  (where someone comes in for airline pilot training with no or little flight experience.)  We are still waiting for details.  While many have criticized the idea in general, Lufthansa has successfully used the model for years, focused entirely on creating airline pilots from scratch.   It’s the only training model that the military has used for quite some time.  It will be interesting to see if and how the US airlines might pull such a program together.

Airlines will need to be more creative, especially at the regional level to figure out how to attract…and build…more pilots for their pipeline.  At the rates that the majors are hiring, pilots are often leaving out the back door as often as they are coming in the front door.  This is further exacerbated by low pay and poor treatment at some carriers.  For years, pilots have had to endure this in hopes of reaching the bigger jobs of the major carriers, they now have more choice in where they go.  Many of the regional airlines, who are already having to cancel flights for want of pilots, may have to rethink their business models or their businesses altogether.  Of course, smaller carriers going out of business may have an impact on the “shortage” part of the equation but that will extend the problem further into the larger carriers, likely which JetBlue is making its move.  Pilots will have to come from somewhere and will need the experience and training to fly larger, longer haul equipment in the larger carriers (or even smaller equipment at remaining regionals.)  Learning to fly is prohibitively expensive.  It will be interesting to look at the solutions that continue to develop and what the airlines do to get around these challenges.

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