How serious is the shortage of airplane pilots and mechanics across the U.S.? Serious enough that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held a day-long Aviation Workforce Symposium on the topic Thursday, Sept. 13, and invited Eastern Kentucky University to participate in a panel discussion on partnerships to address the crisis.
Eastern, which offers the Commonwealth’s only FAA-approved, four-year professional pilot program, was one of only two public universities nationwide represented on panel discussions.
EKU Aviation Program Coordinator Dennis Sinnett joined representatives of several major airlines on an afternoon panel titled “Productive Partnerships.” The integral role that college-based programs play in supplying the industry’s future workforce was emphasized many times in the panel discussion. EKU offers bachelor’s degree options in professional flight, aerospace management and aerospace technology.
Currently, the EKU aviation program boasts 261 students, double the number from two years ago. “Word is getting out,” Sinnett said. “We’re being inundated with students who want to pursue an aviation degree.”
In its 2017 Pilot Outlook industry forecast, aircraft manufacturer Boeing calculated that the global aviation industry will need 637,000 new commercial pilots between now and 2036. CAE Inc., a leading producer of flight simulation technology, said much the same: that 255,000 pilots will be needed in the next decade.
The EKU program, always looking to form innovative partnerships with airlines, is making a concerted effort to reach out to more minority and female students. “Ten percent of our students are minorities, and 10 percent are women,” Sinnett noted, “but we’re not where we want to be. We’re reaching out to high schools, elementary schools and underserved communities trying to raise interest.”
Besides the attraction of a four-year degree, many students are drawn to the EKU program by its FAA-approved 1,000-hour Restricted Airline Transport Pilot certificate, instead of the 1,500-hour ATP rule required at many other flight schools. The program also offers numerous scholarship opportunities and internships.
Much of the panel discussion centered on the high cost of obtaining FAA flight credentials, but several of the panelists noted that the up-front cost is a worthy investment given current market demand and salaries, and job security.
The only other public university participant at the symposium was the University of North Dakota.
For more information about the EKU Aviation Program, visit aviation.eku.edu.