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Alaska Airlines launches pilot training program to help address shortage

To combat a worldwide shortage of pilots, Alaska is offering to cover $25,000 worth of training costs and help arrange low-interest loans to pay for the rest.

SEATTLE — The world has a pilot shortage. The United States needs 10 thousand new pilots. Alaska Airlines and its regional subsidiary Horizon, need 2,000 new pilots in the next four years.

Boeing has been warning about a pilot shortage for at least a decade. And yes, the COVID-19 pandemic played a role. To stay afloat, airlines offered buy-out and retirement packages to cut their numbers of all sorts of employees, pilots among them.

On the supply side, becoming an airline pilot is expensive. The cost of enough training to earn not just a commercial pilot’s certificate, but required ratings from a commercial flight school can approach $100,000.

“A lot of students in the past would have been getting their licenses and rating in the blind, and then hoping that something happens in the future,” Nik Kresse at Hillsboro Aero Academy in Portland, Oregon a large flight school now partnering with Horizon and Alaska to change that. 

The school has 95 aircraft and also trains in Redmond, Oregon. Horizon’s operations base is located at Portland International Airport. Now Hillsboro Aero Academy will train pilots to go directly to Horizon Airlines, and after enough additional time and experience, to the cockpit of an Alaska Airlines jet. 

“I think there’s something to be said about the pathway that’s being created,” Kresse said.

The partnership between flight school and airline is called the Ascend Pilot Academy, and Alaska will cover $25 thousand of the cost of getting those licenses, and arrange for low-interest loans for the rest.

The plan is for graduates to have a job at the end of their training, and a first officer's job at Horizon can pay $85 thousand a year says the airline. Training to get to that point will take about three and a half years, after another three hears moving up to captain at Horizon, after about six-and-a-half years a student would end up as a captain aboard an Alaska Airlines jet.

“We’re making it available to a lot of people like myself, who wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” said Carlos Zendejas, who growing up in Del Rio, Texas could only dream of becoming a pilot decades ago. He became one, but only through a path up through the military which used to be the primary path to the cockpit of a commercial jet. Now he’s the Vice President for Flight Operations at Horizon, after years in the cockpit for Alaska.

People who are interested in the program can click here for more information. 


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