As the pilot shortage continues its chokehold on the industry, more flight schools like ATP Flight School, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), and California Aeronautical University (CAU) have seen an influx in demand for professional flight training and other professional aviation programs over the last year.
ATP reported that most of its graduates advance to Part 121 regional airlines once they’ve reached minimums, but the school has seen an uptick in interest in Part 135 operations that have recently given pilots the ability to advance into larger aircraft prior to qualifying for Part 121 operations.
“The pilot shortage has absolutely had an impact on our student population, and demand is up,” Mike Cavaliere, ERAU director of news and media relations, wrote in an email. “Last year, we hit 2,500 combined Aeronautical Science students enrolled (a 20-year high) between our residential campuses in AZ [Arizona] and FL [Florida], which led us to integrating virtual reality into our flight-training curriculum in order to boost capacity by increasing efficiency. So far, it’s working, as evidenced by the first cohort of students to go through the program early this year reducing the amount of time it takes to complete their first solo flight by 30 [percent]. In response, we expanded our VR lab this fall.”
ERAU also shared that over the past four years, graduates who reported job titles of first officer, pilot, or captain were hired by American Airlines, Republic Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, the U.S. Air Force, Endeavor Air, and Delta Air Lines. Ninety-three percent of those graduates were employed or pursuing continuing education within one year after graduation. Across all ERAU’s degree programs, 90 percent of graduates reported that they were employed in a position related to their degree. The top employers were Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the U.S. Air Force.
Monica Raymond, director of marketing at CAU, said, “We’ve seen an increase in inquiries and enrollments year-over-year for the past couple of years. Air shows and high school college fairs have also been a huge source for us to connect with prospective students. Most events were cancelled for years during the height of the pandemic, and it seems that now folks are very eager for information on how to take the next step towards an aviation education. A lot of folks we’ve spoken to had never considered a career as a pilot, but after hearing about the pilot shortage or seeing one of our advertisements they know it’s not only a realistic career choice, but the perfect one for them.”
For those looking to pursue a career with the airlines, Future & Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA), Chief Advisor and Executive Editor Tim Genc wrote in an email, “The availability of financial aid along with airline partnerships, R-ATP minimums, and a strong preference for the 4-year degree makes the college route the choice for many-a student. That said, the vocational schools (American Flyers, ATP …) can certainly outpace the colleges with six to nine-month training programs.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 18,100 openings for airline and commercial pilots each year over the next decade.
Sam Scanlon of JSfirm.com, a free online service for job seekers and employers, told AOPA that both its job listing and job seeker databases have grown by more than 20 percent in the last month. “People are realizing now is the time to get a competitive offer. We are seeing at least three opportunities for one available candidate, not just for pilots.”
“The most interesting hiring trends are with the airlines,” Scanlon continued. “They are constantly coming up with creative ways to interest job seekers.”
Mesa Airlines for instance, recently purchased 29 Pipistrel Alpha Trainer 2 aircraft, with the option to buy 75 more over the next year to help pilots build time toward their ATP minimums for free, and at the same time, build their pilot pipeline. Other airlines and aviation companies continue to increase pay, bonuses, flexibility, and other incentives.
ATP minimums are a hot topic as airlines scramble to fill flight decks. Republic Airways’ recent Petition for Exemption from FAR 61.160(a) seeking a waiver of the 1,500-hour rule for pilots was rejected by the FAA following a less-than-welcome reception from the largest pilot union, Air Line Pilots Association, and others. In the denial letter, the FAA said, “lowering pilot qualifications through the exemption process is not the proper vehicle to recruit talent from diverse communities.”
JSfirm.com’s advice to employers is to be quick and proactive in their recruiting methods. “There are companies that cannot get out of their own way though,” said Scanlon. “They struggle to know how to recruit in this climate. Sit and Wait is over…. the trend to finding employees lies within changing their recruiting strategies.”