New school takes flight to help meet demand for new pilots

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Just to keep pace with the demand for pilots, programs like the new one from Premier Flight Center and Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, will have to churn out a new highly-trained graduate every 15 minutes for the next 20 years.

"Over 30 communities, just since 2013, have lost air service all together because the regional airlines cannot get enough pilots, so there is a huge demand, and it's growing," said Brian Weiler, director of the Springfield - Branson National Airport.

The pilot shortage likely will grow worse over the next two decades, with passenger and cargo airlines adding more than 637,000 positions, according to a recent forecast from Boeing. Those positions come in addition to the thousands of pilots heading into retirement, according to a recent report by Cowen and Company.

"It is expensive to learn to fly, and, not that many years ago, to get your ratings to go to regional airlines, they were not paying very much. That is changing," Weiler said.

Jobs that once paid $25,000 starting out now pay double that as airlines and others compete to recruit highly-skilled workers to fill their cockpits.

"Airlines can no longer rely on the military to pump out pilots. They're having to grow their own through these types of flight schools and partnerships to do that," Weiler said.

A full class of 24 students will be enrolled for the first-ever OTC ground school this fall. Three of them are women.

"I think you have to be really determined, because it takes a lot of skill and precision," said Sarah Tindell, one of the students.

There is also a waiting list of students hoping to enroll next time.

"I have no doubt it will grow, and the fact it is starting at full capacity day one only shows it's going to continue to grow," Weiler said.

More information about the Aviation Associate's Degree at OTC is at https://academics.otc.edu/aviation/about/