PHOENIX - Airports are bustling once more following the depths of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, but experts say there is a shortage in pilots. In fact, United plans to train more than 5,000 pilots by 2030, with many of them being women and/or people of color.
While there was already a pilot shortage before the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse since the pandemic began. The mandatory retirement age for pilots is 65, and in recent years, large groups of pilots have had to retire as a result of the mandatory retirement age. In 2020, many pilots also opted for early retirement, as ticket sales dropped amid the pandemic.
Meanwhile, students at Aeroguard Flight School are working hard to achieve their dream of becoming pilots.
"I love just taking off, getting off the ground and looking down and saying wow, I am off earth," said one student.
"Just the experience of being able to have a bird’s eye view, something a lot of people don’t get to have," said Sierra Gay.
There’s no shortcut for qualifying as a pilot, and as Benjamin Houser will attest, there’s not always a direct route either. At the age of 38, he decided to quit his job in the mines and take up flight school.
"I traded spaces," said Houser. "I went from 3,000 feet below the earth to 30,000 feet above the earth."
Since his decision to become a pilot, Houser has logged 1,200 hours out of the required 1,500. While finishing up the remaining hours, like so many others, he’s working as an instructor at the school. He says the only greater thrill than flying himself is training and helping others to spread their wings.
"You can get students that weren’t ever pilots before and take them from zero to hero inside of a year," said Houser.
Some of the instructors who have completed their 1,500 hours of flight say they are currently applying for jobs, and some say they hope to get established with a regional airport this year, and eventually make it to a major airline company.