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.
We often tell kids to dream big, they can do anything they set their mind to. The truth is, no matter how old we are, we should always dream big. And that is what we do at Yeager Airport.
Having the military use CRW as a hub, while they train at old coal mine sites in West Virginia, was once a pipe dream. The same for the Marshall University Flight School and the United States Customs Building. At one point, all of these things were just an idea, a dream, but are a reality now at Yeager Airport.
All of these projects at CRW are being done with one goal in mind, make Yeager Airport the most important economic engine for West Virginia. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the construction projects going on around CRW.
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School Construction at Yeager Airport
Construction of the Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School Classroom Building. Classes are scheduled to start in August 2021.
The groundbreaking for the Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School was on August 13th, 2020. Since then, construction has been fast and furious. Work on the classroom building and hangar have stayed ahead of schedule for most of the project.
Classroom Building- The entire frame of the school is up, the roof is on, and the siding for the building is starting to go on. Work on the inside of the building is making great progress too. Framing is done, and sheetrock is going up.
The Hangar- The hangar is also up, and siding is up, and the roof is on. Work is being done on the inside of the building now. The hangar is just to the left of the classroom building.
The first group of students is set to start in August this year. Both the classroom and hangar will be ready to go by then. These future pilots are going to have a state-of-the-art building for their education and training.
United States Customs and Border Patrol Building Project
Yeager Airport is home to the only Unite States Port of Entry in West Virginia. We have had a CBP agent for several years but never a dedicated building for him. He did his work either on the plane or at Capital Jet Center.
The United States Customs Building is being built beside Yeager Airport’s FBO Capital Jet Center. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.
Getting a designated space for CBP has been on the radar at CRW for a few years. Construction started earlier this year and should be finished by the end of 2021. Footers have already been poured, and walls are already starting to go up. The building has to be built United States CBP specifications. When the building is finished, CRW will be on the map for international travelers looking to clear customs before heading to their final destination.
Yeager Airport Taxiway B Project
Two different projects happening on taxiway B. The first is a drainage project. This project is going to divert water away from taxiway B. This is a smaller but important project. Keeping the taxiways and runway as clear and dry as possible is important.
The next project on taxiway B is to give airplanes easier access to Capital Jet Center. As our general aviation customer base continues to grow and will get even bigger when the customs building opens, we thought this project necessary.
Before this project, general aviation aircraft did not have direct access to taxiway Charlie. Once finished, this project will make it easier for pilots to taxi to Runway 23.
Planes leaving Capital Jet Center now taxi on Bravo before jumping over to Charlie. After this construction is finished, planes will be able to have access to taxiway C, which is the old Runway 15/33, directly from Capital Jet Center. This will make for an easier route to and from Runway 5/23.
Exciting Projects at Yeager Airport
More construction is coming. Some plans were paused because of COVID-19, but the projects have not gone away. As passenger numbers start to return to normal, more projects are going to be placed back online. This new construction is going to give CRW a fresh look and feel. It will give passengers an exciting travel experience. It will make some once far-fetched dreams become reality.
To learn more about Yeager Airport contact us today! With service provided by American, Delta, Spirit, and United Airlines, you are just one stop from thousands of destinations worldwide.
2019 was a year for the ages at Yeager Airport. We had almost 500,000 passengers come through CRW. That was a five percent increase from 2018 and an 11 percent increase from 2017. We went into 2020 with a full head of steam, ready to tackle some major projects around the airport. Then everything changed in March of 2020.
Support Services staff cleaning check-in kiosks in March of 2020.
Businesses shut down, finding a can of Lysol wipes meant you won the lottery, and the traveling came to a halt. What started as a two-week quarantine went on for months. The airport felt like a ghost town, and it seemed like there was no end in sight.
On The Road To Recovery
Fast forward to today, and we are on the road to recovery. Masks are commonplace, social distancing is the new norm, and the vaccines are continuing to roll out across the country. The travel industry is making a comeback.
West Virginians do not give up, and neither does Yeager Airport. Even with passenger numbers down near single digits in 2020, we moved forward with many different construction and improvement projects. Working with our forward thinking board of members, we decided the airport would not need to play catch-up when passengers came back.
Yeager Airport Projects
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School. If you have been to the airport viewing area recently, you can see just how fast this building is going up. Both the school building and hangar are on schedule to be ready for students in August 2021. Before the pandemic, there was already a pilot shortage, and with travel ramping back up over the next several years, the demand for pilots is only going to grow. I am excited that Yeager Airport, partnering with Marshall University, will be putting pilots into the air travel continue to rise.
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School Classroom Building
Post-Security Restaurant. Our post-security gift shop and restaurant, The Junction, got a much-needed facelift in 2020. It now looks like something you would see in a hub airport. We are extremely proud of the experience we can now offer passengers while waiting for their flights.
The Junction is located in Gate B, just past the security checkpoint.
Planning for the future. With the addition of the flight school, an increase in military presence at CRW, and traveling numbers bouncing back, we are designing future projects. In the next couple of years, we plan on remodeling the restrooms in the main terminal, replacing the public address system and signage, and replace a passenger boarding bridge. We are also planning more aircraft parking aprons and hangars.
Customs Building. The ground has been broken, and footers have been poured for the United States Customs and Border Protection Facility. Once this facility is built, it will allow international general aviation passengers to stop at Yeager Airport to clear customs before proceeding to their final destination. This will be another great way to diversify revenue streams at CRW.
There are several projects in the pipeline at CRW, including bathroom renovations and upgrading the pre-security restaurant and checkpoint area.
Changing The Way We Clean
The pandemic also provided us an opportunity to look at how we clean the airport. Our goal was always to provide the cleanest facilities possible for our passengers, and I believe we did that pre-pandemic. However, we have now gone a step further. All of the air ducts at the airport have been professionally cleaned, all of the air conditioning vents have been replaced, and UV-C lights were placed in vents to help clean and filter the air.
Our cleaning staff, who have been tremendous during COVID-19, put together a schedule to ensure high touch point areas were being cleaned at least four times a day. In some cases, like the TSA Checkpoint, we had cleaning personnel dedicated to only cleaning that area.
Support Services member cleaning chairs after a flight takes off.
2020 was a rough year for everyone. April 15th, 2020, 15 people flew out of Yeager Airport. 15 passengers was a tough pill to swallow. But our confidence and dedicated team of employees never wavered. We weathered the storm, and now I believe we have come through the other side. We are not back to pre-pandemic numbers. That will take some time, but we are on the right track. West Virginians don’t quit, and neither does Yeager Airport.