If you've flown recently, you're likely aware of how the pilot shortage in the US currently is. You may have even had a trip impacted as carriers scramble to piece together schedules while desperately short of adequate staffing. Service interruptions and changes to flight times have increasingly become the norm.
Many smaller cities across America have lost service altogether as airlines contract & prioritize more populated points in their network.
High training costs and traditionally low pay/quality of life for new pilots have been barriers to entry for years. As traffic slowed during the pandemic, carriers offered incentives to pilots to separate from their airlines, and many took them up on the opportunity. At the time, that decision made sense, but traffic rebounded much sooner than anticipated, blindsiding the industry.
To overcome historic levels of attrition, airlines have had to get creative. Delta Air Lines now offers a path to the cockpit for internal employees. United took that a step further and has created a way to the cockpit with its Aviate Academy.
This week regional carrier Mesa Airlines announced that it had purchased 29 two-seat aircraft for its own pilot development program, with options to buy a further 75 over the coming year.
The program will provide pilot's an accelerated opportunity to meet the 1500 flight hours required by the FAA to be a commercial pilot.
"The pilot shortage could become a permanent feature of the airline industry," Mesa Airlines CEO Jonathan Ornstein said in a statement. "It is basic math. If there aren't enough trained pilots, customers suffer from loss of service and high-ticket prices."
The airline will also subsidize $25 per flight hour for students, with pilots committing to repay the costs over three years at zero percent interest as long as they stay with Mesa.
Mesa expects the program to begin operation next month, with capacity increasing to 20000 total hours of flying daily once fully ramped up.