Spirit expands pilot training pipeline with Liberty University

A Spirit Airlines plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport on June 1, 2023.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

Spirit Airlines announced Thursday that it will partner with Liberty University, the 10th school it has worked with, to help strengthen the pilot training pipeline as the industry continues to face a shortage of aviators.

The program will enable students pursuing aviation degrees at university School of Aeronautics in Lynchburg, Virginia, to apply for company’s pipeline program after completing their second year. Prospective interns will need a recommendation from a faculty member before being eligible to begin the program.

Students pursuing an aviation degree may receive conditional job offers as they complete their studies and work to accumulate flight hours. They must then complete airline pilot training programs and become co-pilots.

“We have put a lot of effort into growing the Spirit Wings Pilot Pathway program and building a great group of partners, making it incredibly rewarding to reach this key milestone,” said Ryan Rodosta, Senior Director of Operations and chief system pilot at Spirit. in a press release.

Other carriers have also sought to increase their supply of new pilots. U.S. commercial airline pilots can only fly until age 65, according to U.S. law. A sharp rise in retirements and buyouts during the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the deficit, particularly among regional carriers.

JetBlue announced last month that its Gateway Rotor transition program would teach U.S. military-trained helicopter pilots to transition to airline pilots. More than 10% of JetBlue’s new pilot hires in 2023 are expected to come from one of its Gateway programs, JetBlue said at the time.

In February 2020, United Airlines purchased a flight academy with the goal of hiring more than 10,000 new pilots within the decade.

Airlines are incentivized to train new pilots using pipeline programs. U.S. law requires pilots to receive 1,500 hours of training to fly with commercial airlines. Exceptions exist for some, such as pilots trained by the U.S. military and those who complete two- or four-year programs that include flight training.

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