Over the next 10 years, 40 percent of the nation’s airline pilots will be forced to retire when they turn 65 years old. Combine that with the recent increase in instructional time from 250 to 1,500 hours to fly those planes, and a perfect storm for the aviation industry is beginning to develop.
That is why some aviation companies are proactively seeking interested students. And Culver’s aviation connections resulted in a flight academy tied to regional carrier Republic Airlines visiting campus Friday, July 12. It gave the aviation students the chance to meet with recruiters and take the virtual controls of a single engine plane from take-off to landing.
LIFT (Leadership in Flight Training) Academy is based at the Indianapolis International Airport, which serves as Republic’s headquarters. Martin Kirkwood, the director of career pathways for LIFT, said the group was invited to come to Culver by Aviation Director Mary Kaye Welch. They met at open house for AlphaFlight, which is handling Culver’s training program at the Plymouth Municipal Airport.
Culver has 62 Upper Schools students taking aviation, Welch said. Two students have already made their solo flights and there is the potential for seven to eight more doing so before the end of camp.
The Woodcraft basic aviation program has expanded from two class periods to three this year because of the popularity of the program. There are a total 108 Woodcrafters taking the class and each one will get time behind the simulator housed in Gignilliat Hall, Welch said. The 36 enrolled in second trimester got a chance to go through the LIFT virtual reality flight, which had four stations.
Personally, Kirkwood was already familiar with Culver’s aviation program because his son came through in 2012. Recruiter Aaron Hackett also had Culver ties, having served as a water ski instructor at camp three years ago. He joined LIFT Academy after serving an internship during the summer before his senior year of college.
Kirkwood said the pilots coming through the LIFT program will be guaranteed a position with Republic. While other airlines are offering similar programs, he said, they are contracting with other flight schools. With LIFT’s connection to Republic, the pilots coming through the program will be “Republic ready” upon graduation.
This educational model is new, Kirkwood explained, but it is necessary, especially for the regional carriers. As the need for pilots grows, major airlines are hiring pilots from the regional carriers. That means Republic must find 500 new pilots every year, he explained.
Along with the job guarantee with Republic, there is the opportunity to “earn while you learn,” he explained. Once LIFT Academy students become certified flight instructors, they are paid to instruct other students while building flight time and the necessary skills.