With the commercial pilot shortage in the U.S. projected to continue growing through 2023, Southwest has joined other major U.S. carriers in inaugurating a pilot pathway program. 

Under the program, called Southwest 225° for the southwest directional heading on a compass, Southwest will partner with universities, charter airlines and flight-training schools on a customized training program. 

Those who qualify for the program will receive a Southwest mentor during their years of pilot training, be invited to Southwest for training activities and will eventually be given the chance to apply for a position as a Southwest first officer. 

"Participants will go through comprehensive training and a continuous evaluation process intended to enable them to meet, or potentially exceed, Southwest's competitive hiring qualifications," the carrier said. 

The program, however, does not include financial assistance for aspiring pilots, a primary barrier contributing to the pilot shortage. 

According to the data aggregator Statista, the estimated commercial pilot shortage in the U.S. is currently more than 3,800. That number is expected to increase to nearly 4,600 by 2023. Barriers to entry include the length of time it takes to accrue the required 750 to 1,500 flight training hours, as well as the cost, which can reach $200,000 when educational training is added in. 

Southwest will offer four distinct training pathways: for pilots transitioning from the military; for aspiring pilots starting as pilot school cadets; for aspiring pilots who are in university programs; and for Southwest employees who wish to become pilots.

Program partners include the universities Arizona State, Southeastern Oklahoma State, University of Nebraska Omaha and Oklahoma; the flight training academies CAE and Bell Murray Aviation; and business jet operators XOJET Aviation, Jet Linx, and Swift Air.

With the launch of Southwest 225°, Southwest joins numerous mainline and regional carriers that have already begun pilot pathway programs. Regional airlines often offer partial tuition reimbursement as an inducement to trainees. Aspiring pilots who are in university programs have borrowing opportunities through federal student loan programs.

And through its Cadet Program, American has partnered with the Discover Card's student loan division to offer no-fee loans at competitive rates as well as repayment deferrals of up to three-and-a-half years.

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