Demand for Pilots Reaches New Highs, Impacting Arizona Flight Schools

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) — Demand for pilots has reached new heights.

Crew shortages have created turbulence in the airline industry.

Now companies are slashing flight schedules ahead of the busy summer travel season as they scramble to recruit pilots.

“In my entire career, I’ve never seen it as it is today,” said Belinda Burnett, director of aviation programs at Cochise College.

Burnett said the demand for commercial pilots is unprecedented.

“When I first started flying, it was like 10 to 15 years before you could even think about airlines after you finished your training just because there wasn’t a lot of movement,” said Burnett.

Burnett, herself a graduate of the program, said that due to current demand, her students are on the fast track to flying passenger planes.

“We tell them if you stay the course, do the work, you’ll be at a major airline in six years,” Burnett said.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott is also seeing an increase in enrollment.

“Embry-Riddle Prescott in the fall of 2018 we had 157 freshmen and at that time the program had approximately 480 students. This fall we are expecting 320 freshmen and my program will have just over 900 students, so in four years we have grown more than 100%,” said Parker Northrup, flight department director at the University. Embry-Riddle aeronautics.

Northrup is a retired USAF command pilot with over three decades of experience in the aviation industry.

“This increase is among the largest we have seen in the modern era. And certainly when you look at the global numbers, almost three-quarters of a million pilots will be needed around the world over the next five years and that’s not going to stop anytime soon,” Northrup said.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. About 14,500 airline and commercial pilot openings are expected each year, on average, over the decade.

Future and Active Pilot Advisors reported from January to March 2022 that 12 major airlines hired a total of 3,432 pilots.

According to FAPA, United Airlines led the pack with 779 hires and announced plans to hire 10,000 pilots by 2030.

American Airlines has hired 623 pilots and expects to hire more than 2,300 pilots this year.

Delta also hired 623 pilots.

To speed up the hiring process, some of these major airlines are turning to regional airlines to find qualified candidates, leaving these companies scrambling to fill vacancies.

“Regional airlines, they’re actually losing more pilots than they’re hiring, almost half,” Burnett said.

To recruit pilots, these companies offer signing bonuses, new and existing cadet programs, partnerships with universities and professional flight schools and more.

Burnett said Cochise College is working to ramp up the aviation program to meet demand.

“Normally our graduates would take two and a half to three years to acquire the time they need to get to the regional airline, we feel the need to fast track these students faster to get the hours faster so that they can get to the regional airline sooner,” Burnet said.

Even if hundreds of people signed up for an aviation program today, they wouldn’t be ready for about two years.

“It’s not a problem that we can add water and fix instantly. It’s a timing issue,” Burnett said. “We can’t fast forward and get to the end faster than security allows us to.”

Copyright 2022 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.

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