Delta will launch a career-path program for pilots, joining competitors United and American, which also announced the launch of such programs this year. 

Delta is making the move to ready itself for the hiring of approximately 8,000 pilots over the next decade. Under the Delta Propel Pilot Career Path Program, Delta will initially partner with the aviation programs of eight universities to interview program candidates. Those who are selected will be receive a qualified job offer that lays out a defined path and an accelerated timeline for becoming a Delta pilot. 

Delta said it plans to eventually work with more universities. 

Individuals accepted to the program will be mentored by a Delta pilot. Once they receive the proper certifications, they'll have a choice of three career routes designed to get them a job flying for Delta in 42 months or less. Program participants will be able to fly for a Delta Connection regional airline partner or for Delta Private Jets while instructing at one of the universities Delta will partner with or fly military aircraft for the Air National Guard or Air National Reserves.

Delta said it is also exploring whether to offer financing opportunities for desiring pilots that could augment existing pilot scholarship programs. 

According to the University of North Dakota's 2016 Pilot Supply Forecast, the U.S. faces a pilot shortage that will reach 3,500 commercial pilots by 2020.

The shortage is due, in part, to the financial barriers to becoming a pilot. 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 time to be eligible to copilot a commercial flight. Getting those hours can cost $200,000, according to industry experts. 

The flying-hour requirement is 1,250 for graduates of two-year college aviation programs, 1,000 for graduates of four-year university aviation programs, and 750 for ex-military pilots. 

As part of its Propel program, Delta also will facilitate a career transition into piloting for current employees. That portion of the program will include mentoring and leave-of-absence provisions. Participants will earn their pilot certification at one of two partner flight schools and work toward their 1,500 flying hours. After that, they'll be hired at a regional airline, where they'll work for 42 months or less before getting a pilot position at Delta. 

Delta will begin taking applications for the Delta Propel Pilot Career Path Program in August.

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