KENT, Ohio — While air travel numbers are still lower than pre-pandemic levels, more passengers are opting to fly once again.
According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, over the past week, more than 14 million people have been screened at airports across the country. But the reality is, the commercial pilot industry is facing a serious shortage.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting employment of pilots to grow about 13% within the next decade. The average growth rate for all occupations is 8%. And the latest figures from Boeing predict 612,000 new pilots will be needed in the next 20 years.
Delta Airlines said they're aiming to hire more than 1,000 pilots before next summer as air travel recovers.
A local collegiate program is doing its part to prepare the next generation of pilots.
Kent State University's College of Aeronautics and Engineering offers a Bachelor Of Science degree in aeronautics with a professional pilot concentration. The program currently has more than 300 students enrolled. The assistant dean of flight and operations, Brian Neff, said with the current climate - now is the time to join the aeronautics program.
“There’s projected to be, I should say, a shortage of pilots over the next 20 years so that’s going to be a big demand," Neff said. "So the future of programs like ours is strong because it seems like the job opportunities are out there.”
Neff said the shortage can be contributed to two main factors. Commercial airline pilots must retire when they turn 65, set forth by the FAA. That rule coupled with pilots taking incentives to retire during the pandemic has created a deficiency of commercial airline pilots.
“Those kind of compound with each other and that’s kind of forced a pilot issue - a pilot shortage moving forward," he said.
Neff said the program at Kent State is currently holding strong with student enrollment. The assistant dean said the college was bracing for a slow down, or even flat line, in enrollment due to the pandemic, however, he said the opposite happened.
“Really it shot up a lot faster than we thought it would," he said. "From a marketing standpoint, it's a lot easier to bring students in when they know they have a job waiting for them at the end."
Neff said prospective students understand the shortage and are taking the necessary routes to achieve their dream job faster. Like flight instructor Brian Carnprobst.
“I’ve always wanted to fly and that's been a dream since a little kid," Carnprobst said.
Carnprobst graduated from Kent State's program last spring. He is currently working to earn his airline transport pilot certificate. It requires 1,000 hours or more of flight time. It's the final milestone before beginning an airline pilot career.
"It was college and it was a lot of work but it didn’t feel like that at the same time because I was out here doing what I enjoyed," he said.
As a flight instructor at Kent State, Carnprobst spends his day working with undergraduate students to earn his 1,000 hours of flight time.
“Every time a student comes in, it just depends what course they’re in, I’ll do a ground school, a flight with them or a simulator," he said.
Neff said the Kent State University Airport and FedEx Aeronautics Academic Center, which opened in 2019, gives students in the program a leg up in their respective field. The university's fleet is the largest collegiate fleet in Ohio, comprised of 34 airplanes and five simulators. The university said the new facility resulted in a 93% enrollment growth in the Professional Pilot program in just three years.
"Northeast Ohio is a challenging environment," Neff said "We have a lot of dynamic weather that changes pretty quick so that's one advantage our students have. To experience that weather over the course of four or five years. And so when they get to their jobs they feel very comfortable out there in the industry."
Carnprobst said while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed his path slightly, he’s putting in the work necessary to achieve his dreams as a Delta pilot.
While a flight instructor, Carnprobst is also enrolled in Kent State's Delta Propel Program. The program, offered to collegiate aviation students, is an accelerated timeline to becoming a Delta pilot. Only 14 collegiate aviation programs are partnered with Delta to offer the program. Kent State is one of the partners. The Propel program offers pilots meeting the requirements to progress through their career route to Delta in 42 months or less.
“I know that there’s the path that I want still available," he said. "With the demand of pilots in the major airlines, it's still an accelerated path. But people tend to be going in less time than they used to be."
For more information about Kent State University's College of Aeronautics and Engineering, click here.