A new purchase agreement signed by United will make it the
first mainline U.S. carrier to operate its own flight academy.
United will purchase the Westwind School of Aeronautics in
Phoenix and convert it into the United Aviate Academy. The carrier said it expects
to graduate 300 students from the academy in its first full year of operation.
United’s move into the flight-training business comes as the
airline expects to hire more than 10,000 pilots by 2029 due to growth,
attrition and a growing wave of pilots who will reach the mandatory retirement
age of 65.
It also comes amid a broader pilot shortage in the U.S.
commercial airline industry. This year the U.S. will have a shortage of 3,500
commercial pilots, the 2016 University of North Dakota Pilot Supply Forecast
Pilot Supply Forecast predicted. Last year, approximately 2,000 pilots at major
airlines were to reach retirement age. That figure will increase to
approximately 3,000 annually from 2023 through 2026.
Since 2018, United, Delta, American and Southwest have
launched pathway programs designed to provide a defined route from university
and vocational pilot-training programs to jobs at airlines. United calls its
pathway program Aviate. All of those pathways involve partnerships with pilot
training programs and regional airlines, but they don’t offer direct financial
Currently, the regional carrier Republic Airways is the only
U.S. carrier that operates its own flight training school. Republic, which
operates flights for the United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection
brands, opened its Lift Academy in fall 2018, offering tuition of $65,000,
including a $20,000 subsidy to students — crucial measures in a profession in
which the cost of certification can approach $200,000.
United said the Aviate Academy will be an extension of its
Aviate program and will allow it to have more control over recruitment,
development and training of aspiring pilots. In addition, the carrier said it
plans to launch a scholarship program focused on women and minorities, both of
which are underrepresented in the pilot profession. United also said it is
working with financial institutions in hopes of offering repayment grace
periods and competitive interest rates.
“Launching our own academy provides us with the unique
opportunity to not only ensure we maintain the ideal number of quality
candidates within our pilot pipeline, but also play a significant role in
recruiting, developing and welcoming those with diverse backgrounds to the
United family,” Bebe O’Neil, United’s managing director of Aviate, said in a
The carrier didn’t provide details on the size of the
planned scholarship program and said it will offer more details on financing
options as they become available.
United also did not say when it plans to close on the
Westwind School and open the Aviate Academy.
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