Flight schools in Dallas and Fort Worth are bet for pilot shortage

Addison — Cleo Vázquez traded preparatory classes in a classroom for a view of the runway and planes taking off from the Addison airport north of Dallas.

Between his studies in math, English and science, the 14-year-old has spent the last three months at Rising Aviation High School studying to earn an FAA drone pilot certificate and take the certification test, though he won’t officially be able to get the license until the age of 16.

“Oh, this is so much better than the school used to be,” said Vázquez, whose mother drives him every day from Arlington. “I always wanted to fly.”

Vázquez was part of the first class of seven students at Rising Aviation High School in Addison, a private charter school specializing in preparing students for careers in aviation.

With a shortage of skilled aviation workers already taking flight from the airline industry, aviation schools and airlines are pouring millions of dollars into programs to train pilots, aircraft mechanics and other workers.

Rising Aviation is one of the new pilot schools that are springing up in the country that want to expose high school students to work in that field, especially for airline pilots, a segment that projects a shortage of almost 60,000 workers by the end of the season. decade.

The shortage of pilots and other workers in the industry is already limiting airlines’ expansion plans, says Kit Darby, a pilot career adviser in Atlanta.

“Certainly airlines are going to be short of pilots and there is no short-term solution to that problem,” Darby said.

“And despite all the money airlines have spent on academies and training, sadly the long-term problems remain.”

With the young graduates of Rising Aviation High School they are expected to get their first...
With the young graduates of Rising Aviation High School they are expected to obtain their first hours of flight until reaching the minimum required for a commercial pilot. This Diamond DA-40 plane is the one used at Rising Aviation High School.(Rebecca Slezak/Staff Photographer)

expensive studies

The main hurdle, Darby says, is the $70,000 to $150,000 in tuition and other expenses it takes for student pilots to complete the aviation course and accumulate enough flight hours—now 1,500—to earn an air transport certificate and be able to fly a commercial airliner.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines is offering student pilots at flight schools up to $165,000 in grants and bonuses to sign on with the company as regional pilots and fly to the rank of captain at the largest airline.

Other airlines have launched similar programs at flight schools across the country.

But, says Darby, there simply aren’t enough students enrolling in pilot courses to meet the future demand for pilots, mostly because of the high cost involved.

“There’s no shortage of people who want to be a pilot,” Darby said. “Anywhere in the world I go, it’s one of the most desired careers, second only to astronaut and athlete.”

In order to afford flight school, students typically have to put up large amounts of money to back loans or have parents who have substantial financial assets, Darby said.

That’s what makes pilot school harder for people of color, who tend to make less money and have fewer assets like home equity.

Still, exposing students to aviation from an early age is one way to try to solve the pilot shortage, says Darby.

After they finish school, pilots for major airlines in the United States earn an average of more than $250,000 a year, and salaries will need to increase now that pilots are negotiating new contracts this year.

Other jobs with the airlines also pay well, such as mechanics.

Last year American Airlines paid an average salary of $62,765, and Southwest Airlines paid an average of $84,872, according to the companies’ regulatory filings.

And that many workers chose to work part time during the recovery period of the airlines due to the pandemic.

Public school districts, including those in North Texas, have spent more than a decade trying to prepare their students for careers in the aviation industry.

The Fort Worth Independent School District has an aviation lab at Dunbar High School where students can get a drone operator’s license and learn about jobs such as aircraft maintenance, says Daphne Rickard, director of the department of trades and technical education. of the school district.

“We’re seeing more students thinking about careers in aviation,” Rickard said.

“We have always had great support from the industry, but more so today. Companies are coming in saying they need more help.”

American Airlines, as well as helicopter manufacturer Bell, are among the companies contributing to the Fort Worth program, for example by sending professionals to speak at schools about careers in aviation.

The challenge, Rickard says, is getting students as young as 16 or 17 to think about a career, no matter how lucrative.

DISD has a program for magnet school students in grades 9-12 that consists of general aviation classes in the first year and aviation maintenance in grades 10-12.

Some specialized aviation preparatory schools have sprung up in the country in view of the demand for aviation workers, especially pilots, which has grown in recent years.

Rising Aviation High School was supposed to start two years ago in an industrial building by the Addison airport, but the Covid-19 pandemic delayed its plans.

It finally opened in April with seven students. At the school, students receive online classes on basic concepts and are accompanied by an assistant principal.

There are also courses in instrument reading, meteorology, and flight operations.

Students also have the opportunity to learn aircraft maintenance and related careers as a dispatcher.

From the age of 16 they can start flying once they obtain their student license.

The school has a four-seat Diamond DA40 propeller plane for student training that is parked in a shared Addison Airport hangar next to the school.

The school is non-profit but it is not free. This year he is charging students about $500 a month in tuition and flight time with instructors.

Scott Meehan, executive director, is funding the school at its inception, but said he will likely have to raise tuition and the school will be seeking grants and assistance as it grows.

He added that the school should have 20 students next year and that it can grow to as many as 50 in its current facilities.

By the time students finish the course, they must have accumulated up to 250 flight hours and have a private pilot’s license, explained Brent Fitzgerald, director of the school.

“They’re not going to be able to work with an airline right out of here, but they’re going to have the experience of flying and that will help them determine if this is the kind of career they want,” said Fitzgerald, a certified flight instructor who planned to be an airline pilot. but he opted for teaching.

Rising Aviation had its first graduation ceremony on May 26 with only one graduate, Nicolás López.

The ceremony ended with López taking a flight with his brother, José López.

The graduate will take a job as a ramp agent with Southwest Airlines to gain experience before choosing a path.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Fitzgerald said.

“There are a lot of jobs in aviation, like being a pilot or a dispatcher, or working in administration. We want to give them options and show them how to get there.”

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