We’ve all been talking about the looming pilot shortage – as well as a shortage of aviation mechanics. Some airlines have already begun feeling the pinch as the requirements for future cockpit members have begun to plummet in a simple supply and demand equation. With very few exceptions, the conversation about a shortage has fallen upon deaf ears with most of it being a debate about whether or not the shortage exists or not. American Airlines yesterday announced it might cancel some February flights due to a shortage of pilots.
Ads have also begun appearing all over the industry recently, early signs that the number of quality pilots has begun to draw thin. Emirates is conducting pilot interviews this week in the U.S. and Canada because they can’t find enough people. More and more Americans are now seeing an overseas job as much more palatable than in years past. Coupled with continued labor unrest here in the states, and lucrative benefits packages – often including tax-free income – many U.S. pilots are leaving for more fertile ground overseas.
But here in the states, we have done very little to invest in a new pilot stream. Now JetBlue is grabbing the bull by the horns, although the airline said it is not yet facing an actual shortage. Most experts see JetBlue’s efforts as astute planning however.
The JFK-based airline announced plans abut a unique partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and the University of North Dakota (UND) in a mentoring program they call the Aviation University Gateway. JetBlue is also linking up with CapeAir in Hyannis, MA to offer pilots an opportunity to gain flying experience before interviewing with JetBlue.
A spokesman for JetBlue said there’s a huge advantage for the airline to establish a relationship with a pilot applicant early it their career. “We identify the right candidates early on and interact with the person periodically throughout their academic and training career,” said Sebastian White. “When they come to us for an interview, they’re a known quantity.”
Students have their work cut out for them to qualify and remain in the Gateway program. They need a professor to recommend them and at least a 3.0 grade point average. Although all will have their foot in the door once they leave school, they will also need to fly for at least two years before qualifying for a JetBlue interview. Taking pilots with some modicum of experience flies in the face of some regional carriers who have currently become desperate for pilots.