With education costs and career uncertainties being the two major concerns of many aspiring professional pilots, a new partnership between regional airlines, flight schools and university aviation programs addresses both issues in tandem, providing tuition assistance that comes with a guaranteed first officer job.
“We’ve never had anything like this program in the industry,” says Danielle Calnin, director of airline business development at Airline Transport Professionals (ATP), the ab-initio training provider that developed the assistance plan and launched it with Mesa Airlines in 2015. “It’s definitely helpful for someone whose life dream has been to be an airline pilot.” The program also intends to help alleviate the growing pilot shortage faced by commercial carriers.
In the year since launch, several regionals have joined in sponsoring tuition reimbursement programs (TRPs), partnering with ATP and more than 40 additional aviation training institutions. Under the programs, regional airlines guarantee selected students first-officer positions, and once qualified, the hires-in-waiting work as flight instructors to build the 1,500 hours of flight time required for an Airline Transport Pilot rating before moving up to the regional carrier’s cockpit. Tuition reimbursement payments of $500 per month commence while the pilots serve as instructors and continue during the first year of airline employment, totaling up to $11,000.
“They can have a flight instructor’s job at 500 hours, get help paying their student loans while building up their hours, and be airline-ready pilots with guaranteed jobs in as little as two years,” Calnin says, summarizing the TRP. “And it helps build a pipeline of pilots the airlines can count on in the future.”
Among the regional airlines now offering tuition assistance with jobs are Piedmont, PSA and Envoy Air — all American Airlines subsidiaries — through their branded Cadet TRP. Envoy Air has already inducted grads from its Pipeline program, an initiative started three years ago similar to the Cadet program, into its pilot corps. “To date, we’ve made 60 first officers out of Pipeline, and we’ve got over 160 students currently enrolled [in the reimbursement programs],” says Chris Davidson, Envoy Air’s manager of pilot recruitment. One of those recent hires, First Officer Matt Menadier, says the application and interview process “really gave me a sense of what the company is about,” which he believes is “so important when you’re making a decision about your career.”
Moreover, the Envoy Air, Piedmont and PSA TRPs put pilots in line for guaranteed jobs at American Airlines after they’ve flown for the respective regional subsidiary. “We have an incredibly competitive and selective hiring process,” says American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Thomas. “This program is a huge advantage for pilots to get their foot in the door at American.”
Other regional carriers sponsoring TRPs include Compass, GoJet, and Trans States Airlines and Silver Airways.
Most students who apply for TRPs are “20-somethings,” says Calnin, but the program also draws applicants looking for a way to make career changes. “I’m amazed at the number of people we talk to every day who say, ‘I wanted to do this for so long,’ and ‘I don’t want to have any more regrets,’” says Calnin. “This is just the first year of the program, but we think we’re going to see more growth as airlines realize the power and value of this recruitment tool.”
Click here to learn more about ATP’s Tuition Reimbursement Program.