Mesa Airlines bought 29 two-seat aircraft for its pilot development program as part of its efforts to combat the ongoing pilot shortage, the regional airline announced Thursday.
The planes will help build the airline's pilot development program, which aims to provide pilots with an accelerated opportunity to earn the 1,500 flight hours required by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly commercial aircraft, according to a press release from Mesa Airlines. Additionally, the airline can purchase 75 more aircraft over the next year.
According to Mesa Airlines, the newly purchased aircraft will start operating next month in Florida and later in Arizona. The fleet will have the capacity for up to 2,000 hours of combines daily flying time and over 1,000 pilots annually once it becomes fully operational, it said.
"The pilot shortage could become a permanent feature of the airline industry," Mesa Airlines CEO Jonathan Ornstein said in a statement. "It is basic math. If there aren't enough trained pilots, customers suffer from loss of service and high-ticket prices."
Airlines have seen a 4% decline in pilot numbers since 2019. Over 14,000 pilots would need to be hired each year for ten years to keep up with the shortage, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.
Pilot and other airline staffing shortages, inclement weather and other factors have wreaked havoc on flights in recent months, prompting airlines to boost hiring and reduce flight schedules to combat delays and cancelations.
Mesa Airlines said its pilot development program is meant to help reduce the pilot shortage. Through the program, qualified pilots will get up to 40 flying hours weekly and benefits such as priority status for employment at the airline, according to the company.
The airline will fund $25-per-hour flight costs for pilots while they are working toward their certifications, with the pilots committing to repay the costs over three years at zero interest while working for the company, Mesa Airlines said in the release.
"Our program will be the most cost-effective and one of the fastest routes to a long-term career as a professional pilot," John Hornibrook, Mesa Airlines' senior vice president of flight operations, said in a statement. "We want to make it as easy as possible for a whole new field of candidates to join Mesa, including and especially people who might not have traditionally considered aviation."