Pilot School May Be Ticket to Airline Career, Despite Past Hiring Slump

Major U.S.
airlines last year hired just 30 pilots, not enough to fill a standard school
bus, according to a firm that tracks pilot hiring.


airline

“It was the lowest total in airline history,” said Louis Smith, president of
Atlanta-based FltOps.com.

Yet,
industry experts say, this is the perfect time to get into a flight school and
pursue a career in the cockpit.

“This
business is always up and down, like shark’s teeth,” said airline
consultant Kit Darby, based in Peachtree City, Ga.

It’s good
to start training during a downturn, he said.

“Job
training and building the experience necessary to get a job takes time,”
Darby said. “If you start (training when the industry is) in the valley,
you’re going to be ready in the peak.”

Experts
think pilot hiring will increase in coming years as economic conditions improve
and drive up passenger demand, and baby-boomer commercial pilots retire by the
government-mandated age of 65.

JetBlue
Airways hired 30 pilots last year, the only major domestic airline to hire any
pilots in 2009, FltOps.com said. The website said AirTran Airways hired 66
pilots in the first five months of this year, the only major carrier to do so.

Smith
predicts major airlines will hire more than 500 pilots by the end of the year,
noting AirTran, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines
are accepting applications. Starting annual salaries at the carriers range from
$26,000 to $53,000, FltOps.com said. Among the 18 regional carriers the website
tracks, half are accepting applications.

Smith
anticipates the nation’s 13 major airlines will hire 42,000 pilots during the
next 12 years, about 70 percent of them to replace retiring pilots. Predicted
airline expansions would create 11,000 positions, Smith said.

“In
the next few years, you’re going to see the longest and largest expansion in
hiring that we’ve seen,” Smith said.

Almost all
of the pilots will move up from regional and other smaller airlines, forcing
those carriers to hire an identical number of pilots as the majors or more if
they want to grow, Darby added. He estimated 8,000 to 10,000 pilots will be
hired annually to meet the industry’s needs.

That
should bode well for pilots pursuing commercial licenses.

“This
is a great time to start because, when you’re done, you’re going to have some
opportunities waiting for you,”

That’s
Brad Kosko’s game plan.

Kosko, 20,
of Greensburg is working his way toward a commercial pilot’s license. He hopes
to become an instructor and wants to get 1,000 to 1,500 hours of flight time
under his belt before pursuing a commercial job. He has 180 hours.

“To
be honest, I’m quite optimistic,” Kosko said. “Within the next five
years, I think things are really going to start opening up. I’m planning on it
working out pretty well for me.”