JetBlue To Start Training Pilots From Scratch

The past 10-15 years have been really tough for prospective pilots in the US. While regional airlines (which barely pay a minimum wage) have been hiring extensively, the major carriers haven’t been for the most part, for a variety of reasons:

  • After 9/11 airlines downsized significantly, leading to many furloughs, and eliminating any chance of them hiring new pilots
  • The major carriers have outsourced much of their flying to regional carriers, which have a significantly lower cost structure; part of those savings come from paying their pilots next to nothing
  • The retirement age for pilots at most US airlines increased from 60 to 65, which basically meant there was no need to hire pilots for five years, as very few pilots were retiring

Now the trend is reversing, as there’s a near shortage of pilots. The airlines are doing well and expanding, baby boomers are retiring (many ex-military), and there aren’t all that many qualified pilots looking for work given the limited career prospects for the past decade.

With that in mind, JetBlue is getting creative and taking a page from some foreign carriers, and will be training pilots from scratch. It’s not quite as straightforward or lucrative as it sounds, though.

Via BloombergBusiness:

The program would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and would be similar to those used by some European and Asian carriers. Candidates still would have to meet U.S. requirements, including 1,500 hours of flight experience, to be certified as commercial airline pilots, JetBlue said.

JetBlue crafted its plan to gain access to a broader group of candidates, oversee their training from the start and expose them earlier to being part of a crew on large aircraft, said Doug McGraw, an airline spokesman. Dubbed Gateway 7, the initiative is being targeted for introduction on a trial basis in 2016 and will initially involve only a small percentage of recruits.

JetBlue is focused initially only on pilots for its 100-seat Embraer SA E190 jets. McGraw said that after the trial period, the airline will evaluate whether to extend the program, possibly to the larger Airbus Group SE aircraft that make up more than two-thirds of its 211-plane fleet. They carry at least 150 passengers.

When I first read about it, this sounded like a cadet program similar to what many non-US carriers offer. Lufthansa, for example, very selectively hires people with no flying experience and trains them start-to-finish to be a Lufthansa pilot.

But that’s not how the JetBlue program will work:

Recruits also would take academic classes at JetBlue before moving to a partner company to gain the required 1,500 hours of flying time. They then would return to New York-based JetBlue, or could apply at another airline.

Prospective pilots would pay for their own training.

As you can see:

  • Prospective pilots would have to pay for their own training
  • Prospective pilots wouldn’t immediately work for JetBlue, but rather would work for a smaller airline (maybe something like Cape Air), and once they have enough hours they could apply to work at JetBlue
  • Once training is completed, pilots could choose to apply at other airlines

Basically JetBlue seems to be getting into the business of opening their own flight school. There are many flight schools out there, and they’re basically just simplifying it a bit and perhaps identifying pilots where they see the most potential, to make the hiring process a bit easier down the road.

JetBlue’s pilot union is opposed to the program, citing that there are thousands of more qualified pilots looking for work:

“We’re opposed to it,” said Captain Jim Bigham, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association union at JetBlue. “We think there are thousands of pilots available that have higher qualifications right now than any pilot coming out of an ab initio program.”

It’s certainly true that plenty of regional pilots would jump at the opportunity to work for JetBlue, which makes you wonder what the airline’s motivation is for starting this program. Presumably the program is going to be profitable independently, so it’s basically a for-profit venture, as opposed to a way of identifying talented pilots.

JetBlue

Bottom line

It’s interesting to see a US airline basically get into the business of running a flight school, though this isn’t quite as straightforward as it might sound. Members of the program would pay for their own training, would first have to work for another airline, and then have the chance to apply for JetBlue.

But in general it’s nice to see US airlines do more to identify talent and encourage people to get into the industry.

What do you think JetBlue’s motivation is for essentially starting a flight school?

Comments

  1. British Airways offers a more lucrative program, where for a couple of thousand quid (hundred thousand), they train you from scratch on the A320.
    Guess what I’m going to be 😉

  2. Some have suggested that airlines are heavily invested in keeping up an oversupply of pilots since it keeps downward pressure on wages.

    I suspect a Jet Blue’s pilots’ union thinks that is why the airline is creating this program.

  3. Lucky, how do you plan and see your future with revenue based programs? As far as I see most airlines’ and hotels’ loyalty program are going to be revenue based which must be a huge problem for people like you.

  4. Why don’t they look at the pilots who have done extremely well in flight school, have the minimum hours but are unable to find work?

  5. This isn’t new. Comair had the same setup years ago. It was a ripoff. Make you pay a premium for substandard equipment and treatment, but admittedly good training. If you complain about loosing your airplane and thus the entire day’s flying to the foreign students (which happened consistently as when their airplane broke down they took yours) or the lack of an interior, or working equipment, they reminded you the entire time “at the Comair Academy” was the interview, complaining does not look good! Once done, and 100k in debt.. you had to CFI for them for at least a year @ a rate of pay a fraction of the going rate, all for the hopes of getting an interview. I figured it out quickly and went elsewhere!

  6. I wonder what the total financial burden it is on the pilot? I would do it but with already 40k in student loans not going to add another 100k to it if it’s not worth it.

  7. I think that pilots who are already trained and certified for this job should get it rather than the airline giving out flight school passes to anyone who wants one.

  8. If you’re paying for the training, as is stated on 2 sites, why would anyone opt for instruction anywhere other than a proper school, such as Embry Riddle or Florida Institute of Technology?

  9. If Jet blue really wanted to have a viable flight school, then first of all they should carry the loan. Then give them all the proper training that is needed to get to the 1500 hrs or there of. Then when the student gets to that point, Jet Blue needs to have a small airline that the students can start working on there hrs. I think that if it is a normal flight school then why should you sign up for the jet blue flight school. The other thing is my age, Jet blue is no different than any other airline, age has allot to do with flight school. I know that all airlines say they don:t do age discrinination but it is out there. So if there really is a shortage of pilots, then age should not be an issue. I have aircraft maintenance expirience, I have 13 hrs in flight taining, so I am allot further ahead than most. So why am I having so much trouble getting into flight school. If jet blue can practice what they preach, then lets get ready for flight training. Other wise have a nice day.P.S. I am also retired AirForce.

  10. a couple innacuracies in the report and comments here:

    1. gateway select pilots don’t work for a regional to gain experience. they work for a contracted flight school, training the next round of gateway select pilots, to earn their hours.

    2. they aren’t handing out passes “to anyone who wants one”. it’s 24 people per year.

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