The travel industry is slowly bouncing back after 18 months in a worldwide pandemic. But, with plane and pilot shortages, the future of travel is well – up in the air.
Five thousand pilots accepted early retirement offers from mainline U.S. carriers aviation consultant Kit Darby told industry publication Travel Weekly. Airlines are anticipating reaching the 2019 travel level by next year or in 2023, but in order to grow, pilots need to be replaced fast and at a higher capacity.
Airports are catching on and are becoming creative on how to combat this shortage. Over the next two decades, it’s projected that 87 new pilots will need to be trained and ready to fly a commercial airliner every day to meet the demand for air travel. Overall employment of airline and commercial pilots is estimated to grow 6% from 2018 to 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Flight training schools have popped up across the country and at CRW in response to the pilot shortage. Kristen Sayre is one of three women in CRW’s Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School’s inaugural class.
“This was a great time to start school because the demand for pilots is only going to increase, especially for women pilots opportunity an even greater opportunity for women in aviation. I think the national statistic for women pilots is 8%, and it’s even longer for career pilots. So right now, there are three of us out of 18 students; we are defying the statistic right now, which is awesome,” Sayre said.
It only took 363 days of construction on CRW’s Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School, where future pilots have a state-of-the-art building and hangar for their education and training.
“It’s a four-year program. The school just got started up a few months ago. It all came together so quickly, as everyone knows. It b took a year for them to set it all up, which is awesome considering all that,” Sayre said.
Ben Epperly is in Sayre’s class. For him, his flight path was always clear.
“Since I was a kid, I have always liked aviation: the sights, the sounds. Always being at the airport. Its excitement in the air” said Epperly.
Marshall University’s planned Commercial Pilot: Fixed Wing, B.S. degree program will help meet the nation’s projected significant need for commercial pilots over the next 20 years. In addition, its ground and flight courses will lead to many FAA certifications and prepare graduates to become commercial pilots of single and multi-engine aircraft.
“I will definitely fly commercial but with an airline, but ii may start corporate first,” Sayre said.
“To be a commercial pilot and fly any airline I can get a hold of. Delta, American all that to fly internationally is what I want to do,” Epperly said.
The new bachelor’s degree program just began in the fall 2021 semester.
Yeager Airport Director and CEO Nick Keller plans to grow the program and bring West Virginia an extra economic boost.
QUESTION: ONE OF THE GOALS OF THE PROGRAM IS TO INVEST IN AVIATION EDUCATION AND CREATE QUALITY JOBS. WHERE DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE BILL NOE FLIGHT SCHOOL IN THE NEXT YEAR? HOW CAN WE HELP THE PILOT SHORTAGE?
“West Virginia and Marshall Bill Noe Flight School and Yeager Airport play a key role in reversing the pilot shortage and help add new pilots. Where I want to see the flight school now is to continue adding new students every semester. In addition, Marshall has new aircraft on order. So imagine in 5 years, over 200 full-time college students going to school at Yeager Airport through Marshall University, graduating up to 50 pilots a year. There is also the opportunity for Marshall to add in different degree programs in aviation management or aerospace engineering.”
QUESTION: WHAT IS THE AIRLINE PILOT CADET PROGRAM?
“One of the things the airport is doing is we are talking to airlines partnering with Marshall University for cadet programs. The program is a pathway for someone who is in pilot training to get a guaranteed job at an airline once they graduate. So they can start with an airline and get into the program; this would help students compete in the economy.”
The Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School will enroll more than 200 students and produce some 50 commercial pilots annually when in full operation.
The curriculum will teach students aeronautics, navigation, flight control, and communication systems.
The incentive to get more pilots is enticing. Based on national data, professional pilots enjoy a great ROI, estimated at 55x, compared to other popular professions like engineers, attorneys, and physicians, estimated at 30-40x.
“It’s the perfect time for us, I mean, especially w this location here and all the job opportunities we will be able to get, and it won’t take very long,” said Epperly.
The median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $147,220 in 2019, while the median yearly salary for commercial pilots was $86,080.
The Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority has received a $5.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
The Yeager Airport Runway Safety Project, as proposed by the Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, would establish a standard 1,000-foot-long by 500-foot-wide runway safety area at both ends of Runway 5-23 and provide a runway length of 7,000 feet. The proposed improvements would require an estimated 12.8 million to 20 million cubic yards of fill to accommodate the proposed runway shift and standard safety areas.
A successful EIS project will allow the Runway Safety Project to move forward and make room for 50 to 60 extra acres of developable land, which could be used for aeronautical purposes such as hangars, industrial parks, and more aircraft parking.
“If the Environmental Impact Study is mitigated and the Runway Safety Project moves forward, it has a potential economic impact of $300 million and hundreds of construction jobs,” said Yeager Airport Director and CEO Nick Keller.
Local leaders are also on board with the project.
“It is great news that Yeager Airport is receiving this funding to conduct an environmental impact study ahead of their runway safety project,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito said. “As our state’s largest airport, it’s important that Yeager Airport has the facilities and resources needed to handle the volume of travelers that come through every day while providing the opportunity to grow. Today’s announcement is encouraging for Charleston, the surrounding communities, frequent travelers through Yeager Airport, and the entire state of West Virginia.”
“Yeager Airport serves a critical role in driving economic development throughout the entire state of West Virginia. This investment from the FAA is welcomed news and an important step towards the continued expansion of Yeager Airport,” said Senator Joe Manchin.
The project is part of the airport’s long-term goal to be West Virginia’s most significant economic engine in the state.
A study done by the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission says Yeager Airport is responsible for nearly 3,000 jobs and has a $225-million economic impact in the state. Yeager Airport is the largest commercial Airport in West Virginia, with service provided by American, Delta, Spirit, and United Airlines. The Airport’s Organizational Vision is: “To become the most important economic engine for the state through advances in aviation and education.” Yeager Airport, in conjunction with the West Virginia National Guard, hosts the Home Base Program. The program works to facilitate military ground, tactical, and air training in West Virginia.
Want to know about about the EIS Grant and the runway safety project? Click the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-Ua7Aw0nsI
It’s no secret that air travel has been impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
At Yeager Airport, travel is picking back up and we are almost back at pre-pandemic levels.
According to the latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travels, the majority of American travels have some level of vaccination with 57% fully vaccinated. That number is up from March and April.
George Zimmerman with Longwoods International believes travel attitudes go hand-in-hand with the state of the pandemic.
“The travel industry will not fully recover until it’s generally accepted we have beat the virus,” said Zimmerman.
According to Longwoods International data, 30% of people are still planning on traveling between October and December, even with the spread of the Delta Variant. However, the same data shows 15% have postponed travel plans to 2022. Unlike during past pandemic surges, it appears not that many Americans are dropping their vacation plans entirely.
In regard to the possibility of a mandated vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Sunday said, “We have not yet gotten to the point of requiring vaccinations on domestic flights, but everything is on the table.
When it comes to international travel, 54% support vaccination requirements or proof of immunity for all international travelers coming into the United States.
“When it was terrible at the beginning, obviously travel was way down. Then the vaccines came and all of a sudden there was optimism. When people got vaccinated things started to pick back up. We were rolling around until June and July and that’s when the Delta variant started taking a hold of the U.S., the numbers started to reverse and daily cases were going up, hospitalizations were up and once that happened the travel’s attitude started to fall.”
The chart below shows passengers who have crossed Transportation Security Administration airport security checkpoints each day since March 2020.
Passengers who have crossed Transportation Security Administration airport security checkpoints each day since March 2020.
Of course, there are safe ways to travel. Airlines and airports are still under a federal mask mandate. Daily cleanings are still being done on and off the planes.
During the pandemic, CRW has continued to increase cleaning efforts, especially in high point touch areas. Air ducts have been cleaned, UV-C lights in vents have been installed throughout the airport, as well as putting in new MERV filters. To add those efforts, CRW is now an ACI Health Accredited Airport.