14 News Special Report: Pilot, school experts weigh in on access of training amid pilot shortage

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Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 6:30 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - We’ve told you about the pilot shortage impacting the airline industry, and how the issue is creating trouble for our regional businesses and passengers.

The Regional Airline Association tells 14 News the industry needs pilots, but one of the main issues is access to training.

Access to training is something pilot, and Henderson native Jon Arnett knows all too well.

Arnett is now a pilot for JetBlue, based out of New York City. He said it is his dream job.

Arnett is originally from Henderson--

“I wanted to learn how to fly when I was young,” said Arnett. “I didn’t have the money. Once the income was starting to really be able to facilitate that, I didn’t have the time so i finally had to make a conscious decision just to.. I wanted to learn how to fly.”

Arnett experienced what many up and coming pilots go through: access issues in terms of cot.

“Most pilots that are coming up through the ranks, they’re spending easily six figures to get all these ratings,” said Arnett. “That’s the difficulty.”

The Regional Airline Association agrees with Arnett. RAA CEO Faye Malarky Black said it’s one of the contributing factors to a pilot shortage right now.

“Financially, there is a vast gulf of what a wealthy person can do and what somebody without wealth can do,” said Black.

Wealth plays into another issue: The lack of access of training for people of color.

According to the RAA, less than 5 percent of pilots are people of color.

“These are all barriers that make it harder for people to get into this industry,” said Black. “We can solve both that diversity problem, and the pilot shortage by giving more people equitable access to the training they need to succeed in this career.”

The pilot shortage has been spelling trouble for airlines. According to the RAA, a shortage of pilots has lead to schedule cuts, dealing blows to regional airports, including the Evansville Regional Airport.

[READ PART 1: 14 News Special Report: Recent airline cuts at EVV impact regional economy, passengers]

[READ PART 2: 14 News Special Report: Airline experts, leaders weigh in on pilot shortage impacting Evansville region]

Arnett said he really started to see the issues of the shortage first hand when people started flying more after the pandemic, which puts a strain on pilots. That’s because they have to fly more hours.

Without enough pilots, Arnett said JetBlue, like many airlines had to pull back on schedules, another side of the issue he said affects pilots, too.

“We actually bid for specific routes and such, and with the airline actually decreasing the number of routes, or even service into certain cities, well then that makes it difficult to obtain a... dare I say a decent quality of life as far as our schedules are concerned,” said Arnett.

The shortage is a problem Todd Smith, the Aviation Program Director at Madisonville Community College is trying to help.

“We’re several years in the making to solve this problem,” said Smith. “Everyone who enters to get to that level of flying has a journey before them...”

The program is relatively new. It started up in early 2021.

The program has state-of-the-art simulators and instructors with real world experience. But the program improves on one thing that is common in the aviation business: access.

“We’ve really developed the programs to be flexible,” said Smith. “Keep in mind, not every student is able to quit their job or leave another part of their life to attending college. We’ve designed these programs to be flexible and pursue an aviation career.”

Smith said their aviation program, along with many others, is key in helping solve the issues airlines are seeing.