Skift Take

What a difference a decade makes. Not long ago, United Airlines had far more pilots than it needed. At the time, it was parking aircraft and putting pilots on furlough. Now times are good and United is on a hiring binge. But we have to ask: Could this boom-and-bust cycle repeat itself during the next recession?

United Airlines Holdings Inc. is escalating efforts to recruit pilots with new financial perks and faster career advancement as the carrier faces the retirement of almost half its aviators over the next decade.

The program, dubbed Aviate, is designed to attract more staff for regional airlines that fly for United, which will then look to field a large portion of its future pilot corps from those carriers.

“Our needs approach or exceed 10,000 pilots in the next 10 years. That really caused us to take a hard look at what we were doing,” Bryan Quigley, United’s senior vice president of flight operations, said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

United is exploring financing options that will help new pilots pay for the high cost of training, including loan guarantees and loan forgiveness, Quigley said. Aspiring pilots can spend more than $100,000 on schooling and to accumulate the minimum 1,500 flight hours required to work for a regional carrier. That financial barrier has thinned pilot ranks and forced regional airlines to boost pay and signing bonuses.

More coaching and learning tools will help speed advancement. Pilots currently move from regional airlines to United today with an average of 6,500 flight hours, Quigley said. Through the Aviate program, that will be cut to as little as two years and 2,000 hours — “the fastest path within the industry,” Chicago-based United said in a statement.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force, once sources of about half of United’s pilot hiring, now make up only 20% as the military struggles with its own pilot recruitment efforts, said Quigley, a former Navy aviator who is also United’s chief pilot.

United is the latest carrier to try to bolster its recruitment efforts. Last month, Southwest Airlines Co. said it would begin its first “ab initio” training program in 2020 to help recruit and train pilots. A similar program at JetBlue Airways Corp. expects to have its first graduates flying as first officers at the carrier next year.

Last year, Delta Air Lines Inc. began a program with eight universities to help identify and mentor future pilots.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Justin Bachman from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Tags: pilots, united airlines

Photo credit: United Airlines is launching an ambitious campaign to attract new pilots. Skift

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