Southwest Announces Pathways Program for Future First Officers

Airline partnering with 10 organizations.

Southwest Airlines crewmembers in cockpit
FAPA says U.S. airline hiring for 2019 could exceed last year's 4,604 cockpit crewmembers.Southwest Airlines

For years, any talk of a pilot shortage always included the caveat that the warning didn’t apply to the major airlines. Southwest Airlines is taking no chances. The nation’s largest domestic passenger carrier recently announced a career program called Destination 225° to create pathways for qualified pilots to become future Southwest first officers. The airline created separate pathways for cadets evolving through ab initio, university, military or current employee programs. The Destination name stems from the 225 compass degree heading that indicates a southwesterly direction.

To offer the program, Southwest plans to join industry partners that will provide participants with training and flight experience to reinforce “The Southwest Way” of flying as candidates compete to becoming a professional pilots at the airline. Destination 225° will partner with CAE, Bell Murray Aviation, U.S. Aviation, Jet Linx, XOJET Aviation, iAero Group’s Swift Air, Arizona State University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, University of Nebraska Omaha, and the University of Oklahoma.

"It's obvious the word is spreading about the demand for pilots," Louis Smith told Flying. "For the first time in sixty years, our industry is relying on the civilian sector as its primary source of professional pilots, creating industrial indigestion. All the airlines are developing programs to provide an ample supply of pilots and to improve staffing stability at the smaller companies that suffer from poaching by the major airlines." Smith is president of Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA).

The airline says people who apply, interview, and are selected for Destination 225° will receive a Southwest mentor during their years of training, be invited to Southwest for training activities and events, and, ultimately, have the opportunity to apply for selection as a Southwest first officer. Participants will go through comprehensive training and a continuous evaluation process to enable them to meet, or potentially exceed, Southwest’s competitive hiring qualifications. There is no cost to apply to the program; however, candidates advancing through a training program and the selection process will be responsible for all costs incurred.

For its role in Destination 225°, CAE will screen, assess and train cadets selected by Southwest Airlines. Beginning in January 2020, selected cadets will begin FAA pilot licensing ground school followed by flight training at CAE. Pilots can choose between two pathways to earn their ATP certificate necessary to join Southwest. In the first, pilots can accumulate 1,500 hours as flight instructors at CAE Phoenix, while the second offers the opportunity to apply for first officer positions with Destination 225° launch partners XOJET Aviation and Jet Linx. The business-jet pathway allows pilots to build their flying experience operating state-of-the-art jets while enjoying the quality of life, compensation and benefits of XOJET Aviation or Jet Linx pilots, including the opportunity to upgrade to captain.

FAPA data shows the eleven largest U.S. airlines hired 376 pilots in June, a 23-percent increase over June 2018. Hiring during the first six months of 2019 totaled 2,444, a nine percent decline from the same period last year because of some reduced hiring; however, FAPA expects hiring to accelerate across the board for the remainder of 2019 and could exceed last year's total of 4,604.