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.