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Pilot shortage boosts Cochise College program

Active pilot training program gets busier
Posted at 7:36 AM, Dec 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-24 09:36:46-05

DOUGLAS, Ariz. - There's a good chance an airliner was part of your holiday travel--but a wave of retirements is leaving airlines short of pilots.

That means flight schools--including a busy school in Cochise County are training the next generation of pilots.

Nathan Menoret is using a simulator to sharpen his flying skills. He already has airline experience, but as a flight attendant for a smaller, regional carrier. He decided instead of trying to move up to work in the cabin of a bigger airline he should make a move to the flight deck as a pilot.

"And every time I've gone up there into the cockpit it's a wonderful view and just flying the plane itself is also an incredible feeling."

As a flight attendant he saw how airlines need a new wave of pilots to replace the ones forced to retire at age 65.

That's created a booming business for flight schools. In Douglas, Cochise College has used great Arizona weather, reasonable tuition, and modern technology to build a strong program that's been training pilots for 50 years.

Program director Belinda Burnett says, “Well we have a two year academic degree program that takes somebody through no prior flight experience all the way through their commercial pilot certificate, single and multi engine and then they can get their flight instructor certificate. So their flight instructor certificate is the quickest way to build hours to get to the regional airlines."

The demand for pilots is keeping the flight schools busy but it's also making it harder to do their job of training because their qualified flight instructors are being lured off to the airlines.

Boeing tracks demand for pilots. It sees a worldwide need for about 743 thousand new airline and corporate pilots over the next 20 years.

Gabriela Zubiate is planning for one of those pilot seats to be hers.

"I just think the flying part comes pretty naturally but when it comes to the studies and actually getting the details on it's not as easy as it sounds."

And while Belinda Burnett says the typical pilot might have been hired as someone in their forties transitioning out of the military, more and more new pilots will be younger and coming out of civilian flight training like the program at Cochise College.