Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air Partner on Pilot Pipeline Program

The Ascend Pilot Academy will be in partnership with Hillsboro Aero Academy in Oregon.

The Ascend Academy will provide incentives to enrolled students and a pathway to a career at Alaska Airlines. [Courtesy: Alaska Airlines]

Alaska Airlines (NYSE: ALK) and its regional partner, Horizon Air, have announced a partnership with Hillsboro Aero Academy to launch a pilot pipeline program, Ascend Pilot Academy. 

Hillsboro Aero Academy, located on the Hillsboro Airport (KHIO) in Hillsboro, Oregon, is designed to give aspiring professional pilots an affordable pathway to the airlines. 

“Launching the Ascend Pilot Academy addresses a critical need to build a larger and more diverse talent pipeline and remove historical barriers to entry for aspiring pilots,” Joe Sprague, Horizon Air president said in a statement. “Our goal is to create a program that enables students to complete an intensive training and time-building program, with a clear and established path toward flying for Horizon as a first officer.”  

The Program

In partnership with Alaska Airlines, Hillsboro Aero will welcome 250 students a year. Enrolled students will be eligible for: 

  • Low-interest pilot training loans
  • A $25,000 stipend for commercial pilot training
  • Mentoring and guidance by Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air pilots
  • A conditional job offer from Horizon Air
  • A pathway to employment at Alaska Airlines (if criteria is met)

The stipend will drop the cost of training by about 25 percent. The ability to obtain a low-interest pilot training low is in response to the difficulty aspiring pilots face when trying to get student aid for training. 

“It should be as easy to get a federally backed, low-interest student loan to become a pilot as it is to attend medical school,” Sprague said. “The Ascend Pilot Academy aims to do just that.” 

Nik Kresse, Hillsboro Aero Academy’s vice president of airplane flight operations believes this is the first step to helping aspiring pilots make their dreams a reality.

“Through this program, an aspiring commercial pilot will be able to realize their dream of learning to fly, and work toward becoming a captain at Alaska Airlines. Enrolling in Ascend Pilot Academy is the first step of what we hope will be a long relationship with Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. We’re eager to work with students through their entire journey and provide world-class training and dedicated pilot mentorship along the way.” 

Hillsboro Aero Academy has approximately 95 aircraft in its fleet. Students will begin training in Cessna 172s and gain multiengine ratings in Piper Seminoles. 

Why This Matters

The introduction of Ascend Pilot Academy is a response to the industry-wide pilot shortage that has emerged in the last few years. Thousands of pilots left the tarmac due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

Alaska and Horizon estimate they will need to hire 500 pilots a year through 2025 to keep up with the demand. The Ascend Pilot Academy will help with about 50 percent of that need. 

For the other 50 percent, Sprague notes that the airline is always searching for qualified pilots.

“We’re taking a number of steps to actively recruit pilots at both Alaska and Horizon, including enhancing our existing Pilot Development Program and launching a robust marketing recruiting campaign.” 

Based in Texas, Ashley is the former Marketing Manager at FLYING and focuses deeply on training and education. She graduated from the Baylor Institute for Air Science with a Bachelor's in Aviation Science and holds an MBA specializing in Marketing. She is an also instrument rated private pilot and licensed FAA dispatcher.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter