May 31, 2013 : By Ted Allen/Liberty University News Service
Under the new agreement, the company will hire Liberty’s qualified graduates — those who meet requirements ranging from grade-point average in aviation courses to accumulated flight time — for its Pilot Pipeline Program.
“The program helps ensure we have the airline-qualified pilots we need for the future and eases the transition from school to the airline for program participants,” said Nicholas Alford, AEA’s manager of pilot recruitment. “The participation of schools such as Liberty in our program is a win-win for both us and graduates looking for careers as commercial pilots.”
Graduates must accumulate 1,500 hours of flight time and meet other requirements established by the Federal Aviation Administration before being hired as pilots. AEA will pay graduates to serve as certified flight instructors for the School of Aeronautics while accruing their flight time. Participants will also receive boarding pass privileges and health benefits from AEA, as well as a $10,000 scholarship upon completion of the program.
“They could put it toward their tuition for their flight training costs, so it’s a great opportunity for our students,” said School of Aeronautics aviation professor Walter Reichard.
Experience on the school’s CRJ 200 simulator, an advanced-jet training program, is also a requirement. The simulator will be used to screen the best candidates.
Reichard estimated that about two thirds of the school’s prospective pilots will fly for commercial airlines. Currently, there are about a dozen Liberty graduates flying for either ExpressJet Airlines or American Eagle.
Liberty signed a similar agreement with ExpressJet last year and is working on comparable opportunities with other airlines.
American Eagle and ExpressJet are the two largest regional airline systems in the world, with nearly 4,000 daily flights to more than 200 airports throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
“The more airlines that we can develop that relationship with and sign an agreement with, the better,” said Reichard, who retired after 15 years with ExpressJet.
These agreements will be even more important as the demand rises for airline pilots, he added.
“There’s a pilot shortage that is just beginning, and it’s going to continue to get larger and larger in the next 10 years,” he said. “The numbers are absolutely amazing. We’re talking 50 to 60,000 pilots they’re going to need.”
The School of Aeronautics, in turn, anticipates a continued trend of climbing enrollment and an expansion of its Freedom Aviation flight operations center at Lynchburg Regional Airport. It is also exploring expansion opportunities at other airports in Virginia.
“We haven’t put a cap as far as the number of students and our program is continuing to grow,” Reichard said. “It’s tripled in size in the seven years that I’ve been here, so it’s amazing the growth that has taken place. Now at some point, we’re going to reach a limit where this airport can only hold so much traffic. But we haven’t maxed out the airfield capability yet.”