By Bill Hudson

Blaine, Minn. (WCCO) — At Twin Cities Flight Training, at the Anoka County Airport, a large hangar of planes awaits eager flight students. Retired American Airlines pilot and manager Paul Perovich says most of them hope to fly commercially one day.

“I get a lot of students who come here and I ask them what do they want to do? They say, ‘I want to do this for a career.’ And it’s a good time for them,” Perovich said.

That’s a promising sign because major airlines are desperate for trained pilots. Currently the FAA requires veteran commercial pilots to retire at age 65. Yet, beyond mandatory retirement, fewer pilots are being trained by the military.

Also, the continued growth in world air travel is increasing demand for more flights, putting carriers in a pinch.

“When I was hired at American, if you were 31 you were too old. They will take you right now at 50 years old if you are qualified,” Perovich said.

Delta plans to hire 8,000 pilots in the next decade. 1300 of them are expected to be on the Delta payroll next year. The carrier will also need thousands more flight attendants and mechanics.

Without a sufficient workforce, airlines like Delta will have little choice but to reduce the number of routes and flights – something that would inevitably lead to higher priced air travel.

“They should have enough pilots, otherwise everything will be expensive. That’s going to be an issue,” airline customer Adi Dhagat said.

One problem is that ever since 9/11 many domestic flight schools have gone out of business. There are fewer training centers turning out pilots at the same time demand worldwide keeps growing.

“China is taking all kinds of people, there are airlines popping up in Japan,” Perovich said.

That’s one reason that commercial carriers such as Delta are launching private initiatives to lure more young people into aviation. In 2018 Delta created the Propel Pilot Career Path Program. It offers an alternative path to flying beyond the traditional military or civilian programs.

“They need to outreach and try to get people interested. I have a daughter who’d be great at that,” passenger Nina Meyer said.

Exactly what Delta is attempting to do. It’s yet another sign of the aging baby boom generation. Leaving the door of aviation opportunities wide open.

Bill Hudson

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