KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As U.S. airlines continue to deal with delays and cancellations due to staffing shortages, a local pilot training school is aiming to help fill the gap by opening an accelerated program.
ATD Flight Systems operates a training program and charter business out of Kansas City's Charles B. Wheeler Airport.
With a surge of pilots needed in the airline industry, instructors say the school has seen an increase in student interest over the summer.
"It got to the point where they're needing pilots so bad in the aviation industry, and just the influx of students we are getting, we decided to open up a new advanced system, like pretty much a new system for our flight school," A.J. Paul, a flight instructor at ATD, said.
During the pandemic, as air travel plummeted, airlines stopped hiring pilots and encouraged their current employees to take early retirement deals and buyouts as they tried to save money.
But now, air travel is picking back up quickly.
More than 1.5 million people traveled on Oct. 30 this year, compared to around 600,000 on the same day last year. That has left airlines scrambling to hire more pilots to keep up with demand.
"The airlines are picking up my friends and my colleagues left and right," Paul said. "And hopefully my time is coming next."
Delta Airlines recently announced it needs to hire more than 1,000 pilots by next summer. American is looking for more than 1,300 pilots and United is hiring 1,500.
The demand for pilots is a trend that started before the pandemic and will likely continue for years after.
"This is a forever industry. Aviation is not going anywhere, anytime soon," Paul said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 13% increase in pilot jobs by 2030, compared to 8% for all other occupations.
ATD hopes its accelerated program, scheduled to open early next year, can help increase the supply of pilots flowing into the industry.
"You're going to be pretty much in and out of our school as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can," Paul said.
The time it takes to complete all the requirements to become an airline pilot varies. For someone training part-time, it can take five or more years. In an accelerated program like the one ATD is opening, it can take as little as two years.
More information about the timeline and requirements is available on ATD's website.