American Airlines training next generation of pilots as shortage looms

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by JASON WHITELY / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 9:14 AM

DALLAS — In Scott Shankland's house, the family business is up in the air.

Shankland is a commercial airline captain with more than two decades of experience. It came as little surprise that his 18-year-old son wanted to be a pilot, too.

"He's got a lot of pilots in his family — his stepmom, his stepdad and, of course, myself," Shankland said.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines said it hopes to hire 1,500 new pilots in the next five years.

Industry-wide, piloting a jet is a job in demand. Big carriers are pulling from smaller ones, and that's creating a void in the cockpit.

Boeing predicts the number of pilots needed worldwide will almost double in the next 20 years — from 250,000 to 445,000.

To make things worse: more veteran pilots are retiring; fewer are coming from the military; and the number of flight hours required for an Air Transport License has increased substantially.

So American is doing something few others are by raising its own next generation of pilots.

American has partnerships with 20 universities across the country. If students graduate in four years and maintain a certain grade point average, they're guaranteed an interview with American Eagle.

If the airline hires them, they get a $10,000 signing bonus to help offset education expenses.

"It's nice going through college where there's light at the end of the road," said Scott Shankland Jr.

He is studying for a Bachelor of Science in Aviation at the University of Oklahoma. One benefit to the FAA-approved program is that he can graduate and go to work with less experience than others.

"I've always known I wanted to fly all my life,” the teenage Shankland said. “With the pipeline program, if it was offered at another university and OU didn't offer it, I probably wouldn't have gone."

The OU program reportedly has a wait list. But it's just the kind of interest American wants as it tries to avoid the looming pilot shortage.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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