Valley flight schools seeing boom in students amid pilot shortage

Ever dreamed of becoming a pilot? 

A recent study by Boeing predicts a need for around 800,000 pilots over the next twenty years and Valley flight schools have become hotbeds for training the next wave of fliers. 

“The demand is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Rex Ginder, site manager for the University of North Dakota and Chandler-Gilbert Community College training center at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. 

“Two years ago, students were starting somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000 [a year] for a starting salary at a regional airline,” Ginder said. “Now we’re seeing double — and, almost triple — that for a starting salary,” he said. 

The UND program offers students a three-year track — 18-months of classes and training and 18-months as a flight instructor to obtain required flight hours. Ginder said altogether, students can move into a piloting career for around $62,000 in tuition and training fees.

With increasing salaries, graduates can pay off that debt almost twice as fast, he said. 

“For any airline that you go to, they’re all kind of fighting for you,” said Kendrick Whisenhunt, a UND program participant and flight instructor who’s interviewing on Monday for a professional position. 

“It’s nice to be in a market where you’re essentially employed no matter what,” he said. 

Other Valley flight schools, including CAE and ATP, offer “fast track” programs and are partnering with carriers like JetBlue and American to subsidize tuition costs and guarantee students a job upon meeting flight-hour requirements. Students commit to working for that airline for a set period of time. 

Ginder said regional carriers, like SkyWest, are offering steep signing bonuses and retention bonuses to his graduates — in some cases, up to $50,000. He expects demand for pilots to continue through the next decade. 

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