Delta Air Lines and Wheels Up Partner to Expand Pilot Pipeline Program

Delta Air Lines’ (NYSE:DAL) Propel College Path program is adding a new partner as it seeks to expand its talent pool to recruit more pilots. Wheels Up (NYSE: UP), the member-based private aircraft operator, will become the first Part 135 partner to join the Propel program, offering its pilots a much easier path to full-time employment with Delta.

Captain Ashish Naran, a former corporate pilot who is now a captain and chief pilot recruiter for Delta, said in a statement that the corporate-to-company pathway will help pilot candidates improve their flying skills and build skills. essential customer.

“The diverse flight operations and attentive customer service skills associated with Wheels Up’s on-demand charter operation will lay the foundation for Propel candidates to have a successful career with Delta,” said Captain Naran. “This partnership with Wheels Up will establish that solid foundation for this next generation of Delta riders.”

Stevens Sainte-Rose, Wheels Up’s Human Resources Manager, was also thrilled with the bond the partnership would create for the riders. Sainte-Rose called Delta a “preeminent brand” and described the carrier as an innovative pilot recruiter. Delta was the first major carrier to launch a Pathway program when it established its Propel program in 2018 to increase its workforce. So far, more than a dozen pilots have completed the Propel route and are employed at Delta, the airline said in a statement.

Wheels Up is taking strategic action to support its workforce

Propel partners with colleges, the military, and Delta Connection carriers to make it easier to hire aspiring pilots. This new partnership with Wheels Up gives pilots who wish to work in business aviation and an airline the opportunity to do so.

“We believe that by working together, we can provide meaningful and exciting assignments to pilots at every stage of their career,” said Sainte-Rose.

In addition to choosing flying jobs with regional carriers, pilots who want to explore a career in business aviation can choose to work for Part 135 operators, like Wheels Up, who also have certification requirements. hiring similar to those of regional airlines. It also offers companies, like Wheels Up, additional recruiting incentives for young, mid-career drivers. Having a clear path to a major airline, like Delta, could encourage new pilots to choose business aviation over working for a regional airline.

Wheels Up operates a fleet of King Air 350i, Citation Excel and Citation X as part of a market of over 1,500 private aircraft that it owns, leases or manages.

Wheels Up is the first Part-135 operator and the only private aeronautical partner of the Propel program [Courtesy: Wheels Up]

Wheels Up and Delta are also partnering on a program for retired Delta commercial pilots looking for the next chapter in their aviation career. According to FAA regulations, airline pilots must retire at age 65. Some members of Congress have proposed raising the forced retirement age to 67, but the pushback by the largest pilots’ union, ALPA, appears to have crushed their efforts so far.

Meanwhile, there is no FAA-mandated retirement age for Part 135 operations, meaning retired airline pilots could extend their flying careers by working for airlines. business aviation companies, such as Wheels Up, as long as they have an up-to-date medical certificate.

When it comes to rider retention, Wheels Up has rolled out its AirCrew 360 program, a suite of perks and benefits for its riders. During the company’s fourth quarter earnings call in March, Vinayak Hegde, the company’s president, said Wheels Up had revised the program to make it more competitive.

“Through this initiative, we are revamping pilot compensation, including equity grants and industry firsts, as well as enhanced benefits, career progression plans and lifestyle enhancements for our pilots” , Hedge said.

This program has proven so successful for the company that it launched Maintenance 360 ​​for its support teams. Hedge mentioned, in passing, that the company plans to hire more than 100 technicians this year.

Delta’s continued push for pilots

Delta plans to hire and train more than 2,400 pilots this year alone as it continues to grapple with replacing pilots who took an early retirement deal offered by the airline at the start of the pandemic in 2020. of its earnings call last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told investors the airline had overestimated how much it needed to cut staff at the time. The move has hurt the airline’s ability to cope with the ongoing travel rebound.

Although Bastian said his airline has no problem recruiting pilots, he predicted that it could take until the end of 2027 for the airline to overcome its staffing issues. Additionally, analysts predicted the US airline industry will be short of 26,000 pilots in 2030, but said Delta was in the best position of any major airline.

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