American Airlines is launching a training program that will place pilots with its wholly owned regional carriers Envoy, Piedmont and PSA.

Private lender Discover Student Loans will facilitate the program, which is called the American Airlines Cadet Academy.

"The lack of financing options has restricted the size of the pilot pool, leaving some of the most talented people out of the running," said Kimball Stone, American's vice president -- flight. "By removing this roadblock from the student experience, we will attract a diverse group of professional aviators to American for years to come."

The U.S. faces a pilot shortage that will reach 3,500 commercial pilots by 2020, according to the University of North Dakota's 2016 Pilot Supply Forecast. Regional airlines have been disproportionately impacted by the shortage.

The Cadet Academy will train participants for up to 18 months at American Airlines' partner flight schools in Dallas, the Fort Lauderdale area, Memphis or Phoenix. Students will follow what American calls "a carefully choreographed flight-training track, where you will learn the skills to become a safe and competent aviator."

Those who finish the program will have the opportunity to interview at Envoy, Piedmont and PSA. Program applicants need not have experience in the cockpit.

Participants will have the option of receiving financing from Discover Student Loans. The company said it would offer loans at competitive rates, either variable or fixed, that have no fees. Payments can be deferred for up to three-and-a-half years.

Aspiring U.S. airline pilots who don't get trained via the military or a college or university flight school must log 1,500 hours of flight to be eligible to copilot a commercial flight. Getting those hours can cost $200,000, according to industry experts.

Last year, an FAA advisory committee recommended amending that rule to allow trainees who go through an airline-run training program to obtain the required Airline Transport Pilot license with just 500 hours of flight time. But such a change faces strong political resistance.

American is not the only major U.S. airline that is trying to generate interest in becoming a commercial pilot.

This fall, United will begin its Career Path Program in partnership with Metropolitan State University in Denver, creating the first direct pathway between a university aviation department and a position in the cockpit of a major U.S. airline.

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