INDIANAPOLIS -- Chandler Prince, a 31-year-old resident
here, knew that he wanted to change direction from his career as a sports
marketer to become an airline pilot. He just didn't know where he would choose
to go for flight-training school.
So, in May 2018, when Prince saw an ad for the Lift Academy
that was preparing to open on the grounds of Indianapolis Airport, he was
The school, run by regional carrier Republic Airways, is the
only one in the U.S. that is owned by an airline. Students are trained from the
beginning to be Republic pilots using Republic operational procedures. And,
provided that they excel during training and obtain their certifications, they
are guaranteed a job at Republic.
More than that, Lift puts students on a fast track to the
Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate that is required to fly for a
commercial airline. The school's goal is to help students achieve the
licensure, including the required 1,500 hours of flying time, within 18 months.
And it does so for the comparatively inexpensive price of
$65,000. That cost includes a $20,000 subsidy, the only one of its kind offered
by a U.S. airline to flight-training candidates.
Prince went through the interview process and was sold.
"I saw the vision and wanted to be part of the first class,"
he said as he sat in a small conference room at the academy on a recent Monday. "You compare it to other schools. For the price you can't
In September 2018, Prince was part of that first class. He's
now a paid flight instructor at Lift and about halfway toward reaching his
1,500 hours of flight time. Prince expects to be employed by Republic before
the end of next summer.
As carriers throughout the U.S. work to ward off a pilot
shortage that has already hurt the regional airline industry in particular,
many have implemented pathway programs designed to provide a defined route from
university and vocational pilot-training programs to jobs at airlines.
But Republic, which operates regional flights for United
Express, Delta Connection and American Eagle, is the only carrier to establish
its own academy or to offer subsidies to pilot candidates. Republic also offers
$15,000 in loan assistance to Lift students, which doesn't have to be repaid if
the individual stays employed with the carrier for at least five years.
Those are key factors in a profession for which training is
often time-consuming and pricey. ATP Flight School, for example, offers a
nine-month fast track for $81,000. Meanwhile, completing a four-year university
program along with the flight hours required for an ATP certificate typically
costs $150,000 to $200,000.
"Instead of us contracting out to another provider to train
these pilots, we wanted to bring it in house," said Lift Academy general
manager Dana Donati. "We wanted to make sure that we were training these pilots
for 1,500 hours the way they are expected to fly at Republic."
This year, Republic will hire approximately 700 pilots. But
fueled by the demands of a growing industry and by mandatory pilot retirements
at age 65 in the commercial U.S. industry, the carrier expects to be hiring
more than 900 pilots per year by 2023.
Lift is currently maxed out at 200 students. But Donati said
capacity will increase to 330 after the academy takes delivery of 20 additional
Diamond single- and twin-propeller training aircraft early next year.
Similar pilot-hiring arcs will be experienced by carriers
across the country. This year, approximately 2,000 pilots at major airlines
will reach retirement age, according to the 2016 University of North Dakota
Pilot Supply Forecast. That figure will increase to approximately 3,000
annually from 2023 through 2026.
"This problem is not shortsighted; it’s going to go on for
another two decades at the very least," said Donati, who predicted that other
airlines will eventually follow Republic's lead.
Dan Akins, founder of the consulting firm Flightpath Economics,
which researches the pilot shortage, has for years been calling for airlines to
directly subsidize flight training. Republic and Lift, he said, are pushing the
"They are controlling their own destiny, it appears, better
than any of the regional competitors and appear to have a much better handle on
both addressing entry-level pilot concerns and developing an interest in
becoming a pilot," Akins said.
Lift definitely pushed the right buttons for Sarah Hayward,
28, who moved to Indianapolis from Alabama last spring to attend the academy.
"What drew me in when I interviewed," she said, "was this is
a flight school to train you for the airline, not a flight school to train you
to fly a small plane and then you go to the airline."