Ever wanted to be a pilot as a career? Instructors at a flight school in Hernando County say now might be a great time to pursue that dream.
- Number of pilots down 30 percent since 1980
- Many current pilots retiring, training new pilots expensive
- Students now looking to colleges, universities to get instruction, flight time
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of pilots is decreasing, while demand is still going up.
However, it could be the price of training that is holding people back.
“One day I was like, 'Hmm, I wonder what it takes to get into that kind of career," said Vanessa Baker, who says she's loved flying for as long as she can remember. "So I started researching it and I went for a discovery flight, and then I was hooked — I was like, 'I have to do this every day.'"
She’s been training since January and has already obtained her private pilot license. She hopes to fly for a commercial airline one day.
“Sometimes it’s scary, so it has that factor of adrenaline, which is fun and you’re always learning something new," she explained. "It’s always a challenge — it’s never the same thing every day."
Why numbers are down
But students like Vanessa can be hard to come by.
According to the FAA, the total number of pilots in the U.S., including both students and professionals, has decreased nearly 30% since 1980.
Why? Many current pilots are retiring, and the training now is pricey.
After a deadly Colgan Air crash in 2009, the FAA required all new pilots for commercial airlines to have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours. Before that crash, the requirement for new pilots, namely First Officers, was much lower.
It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that many hours.
Seeking other alternatives
That's why some aspiring pilots are turning to colleges and universities with pilot training programs to get the experience they need and use scholarships and loans to keep costs down.
American Aviation at the Brooksville Airport partners with Pasco-Hernando State College to train students.
"We have flight simulators that are FAA-approved and they can offset a lot of their time and log a bunch of their time and the college doesn't charge anything for the use of those flight simulators," Mark Aragon, PHSC Professional Pilot Director and an Instructor with American Aviation, explained.
And even though she has had to take out loans, Baker said it will all be worth it in the end.
"It's absolutely worth it. I would do it even if I didn't get paid," she explained.
Aragon also said in the past, airline pilots got their training in the military. But he said with the military facing their own shortage in pilots, they are trying to keep their pilots for as long as they can, so it’s not as appealing of an option for people who don’t want long military careers.