Amid the growing pilot shortage, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Forces to Flyers program to help nonpilot military veterans get the training they need to find commercial pilot jobs.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao hosted the November 16 launch of the three-year demonstration project to assess veterans’ interests in becoming pilots and to help them receive the necessary training. The program, which is expected to cost $2.5 million, aims to address three main issues: access to rural areas, the pilot shortage, and the need for civilian jobs for our nation’s veterans. Although still being finalized, a DOT official told Politico that no more than 40 veterans would participate in the program.
Erick Eversole, president of Hiring our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce initiative, spoke at the launch and discussed the valuable opportunities the program will provide service members transitioning to civilian life. “Helping to educate these men and women about the tremendous long-term economic opportunities that exist in the aviation industry is truly something we are proud to participate in,” Eversole said.
According to Eversole, many veterans lack access to resources and education, with 88 percent coming from low- and middle-income families.
Congressman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a pilot, applauded the program’s goal of helping veterans find good jobs while simultaneously addressing the pilot shortage: “It’s a serious problem that is only going to get worse if nothing is done.”
Delta Airlines also reiterated its commitment to recruiting from the military: “Nearly 15 percent of Delta’s 80,000 employees, and more than half of our pilots, are veterans or on active military duty.”
Regional airlines, which are currently facing some of the most severe shortages, have come out in support of the program. According to the Regional Airline Association, 156 airports lost at least 20 percent of their departures, 52 airports lost at least half, 29 airports lost at least 75 percent, and 18 airports lost all of their commercial air service between 2013 and 2016.
But it's not just regional airlines that are feeling the brunt of the pilot shortage: The military has major problems of its own with a mass exodus of nearly 2,000 pilots, especially in its fighter jet division.
As more pilots choose to forego careers in the Air Force in favor of higher paychecks and a better quality of life, the once-alluring branch is facing serious challenges in competing with commercial airlines. Within 10 years of service, many military pilots have fulfilled the required 1,500 hours to pursue an airline transport pilot certificate, allowing them to take advantage of the commercial hiring boom.
The shortage also is trickling down to business aviation, where operators have had to offer double-digit pay raises to attract pilots and compete with airlines. Jet Aviation, a business aircraft management and charter company, announced that corporate pilot salaries have increased 20 percent this year.
Although the demand for pilots is strong, the number of student pilots entering aviation has yet to turn around in a significant way. In fact, the number of private pilot certificates issued by the FAA on an annual basis is down 66 percent since 1980. To attract the next generation of aviators, AOPA’s You Can Fly program is working to give students the training and education needed to begin good-paying careers in aviation, and more than 600 students in 17 states are testing AOPA’s ninth-grade high school aviation curriculum. With such a demand for aviation jobs, there is no better time to pursue a career in aviation, according to You Can Fly officials.
The You Can Fly program and the Air Safety Institute are entirely funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization. To be a part of the solution, visit www.aopafoundation.org/donate.