Delta launches pilot program to train next generation of aviators

Delta Propel Flight Academy will welcome the first class of pilots in June

Delta Air Lines is launching a program dedicated to training the airline's next generation of pilots.

The Delta Propel Flight Academy, operated in partnership with training provider Skyborne Airline Academy, is expected to welcome its first class of aviators in June. 

The program, which is already accepting applications, is poised to bolster the pool of trained pilots. 

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Airlines have complained about a shortage for several years, but they made it worse during the pandemic by encouraging pilots to take early retirement when air travel collapsed in 2020. 

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The government estimated that there will be 18,100 openings for airline and commercial pilots on average each year over the decade. 

"Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire," the Labor Department said.  

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To help, airlines have been in a hiring frenzy that is likely to continue for several years as the carriers replace pilots who reach the federal mandatory retirement age of 65.

However, the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), the world's largest airline pilot union, released updated data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that says the "commercial airline pilot pipeline remains strong and robust." 

From January through November 2022, there were 8,805 commercial airline pilot certificates (ATP-MELs) issued, which the ALPA says exceeded analyst forecasts and airline demand for new aviators and put "the U.S. on pace to break pilot production records this year." 

Delta vice president of flight operations and system chief pilot, Patrick Burns, said in a statement that the "Propel Flight Academy is the latest chapter in our longstanding commitment to invest in and create new, equitable pathways for qualified talent to enter the pilot profession."

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As an incentive, students will also be eligible to receive up to $20,000 in financial support from Delta. The carrier also promised to foot the cost of interest on student loans from select lenders. 

Students will undergo private, instrument, commercial and certified flight instructor training at a facility situated in Vero Beach, Florida. 

A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area

A pilot rides an escalator down to the baggage claim area inside the Southwest Airlines terminal at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in St. Louis.  ((AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) / AP Newsroom)

Once student pilots completed their first certificate or rating at the Propel Flight Academy, they will be eligible to apply to the Propel Pilot Career Path Program, according to Delta. 

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Once their training is complete, they will be offered a job with Skyborne as a certified flight instructor. Once they log 1,500 hours, they will begin at one of Delta’s Connection Carriers as a first officer, Delta said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.