Local schools compete with airlines for trained pilots
Oklahoma aviation and aerospace officials are generating ideas to help train the estimated 206,000 new pilots needed in North America over the next two decades.
The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission has gathered general aviation, university flight school, private trainers and military liaisons in a committee to see what resources they can use to push more people into the pilot's seat.
At a meeting on Monday, the committee members seemed to agree that one of the biggest issues with training new pilots in Oklahoma is the lack of qualified training personnel, who are often recently certified pilots themselves. Flight schools compete with regional airlines, leaving pilots to choose between staying with their school or venturing out on a commercial aviation career.
The University of Oklahoma aviation classes are maxed out at 45 students with a waiting list, said Director Ken Carson.
"We're not making any dents," replied Commissioner Jerry Hunter, owner of Sundance Airport. "How do we get there from here, when commercial aviation is cannibalizing our flight instructors?"
To reverse the trend and make staying with a flight school more attractive, members suggested the state offer loans or tuition reimbursement for pilots willing to commit three or more years before heading off to an airline. It's a strategy that works in private schools, said Riverside Flight Center owner Yuri Milner.
If a pilot is good enough, Milner said, he will pay for their commercial flight instructor and instrument certifications.
"I'll at least finance it for nothing. I'll happily lose the money on doing it if you work for a year," Milner said. "I train people and they leave me the next day for a sign-on bonus somewhere else."
Aeronautics Commission Director Vic Bird cautioned the committee that, while investigating the pilot shortage problem, they remember how hard it can be to convince lawmakers to spend money.
"We need to be really cautious about tax incentives from the Legislature," Bird said. "It still comes down to money and return on investment for the state of Oklahoma."
The committee is expected to meet again before any formal recommendations are adopted.