JetBlue is taking applications for another round of its new in-house training program designed to overcome a growing shortage of pilots, but some in the aviation community remain sceptical.
The “highly-selective” four-year program will accept 24 candidates — with no prior aviation experience required. It will cost $125,000.
Accepted candidates will train at the JetBlue University in Orlando and with flight simulator company and JetBlue partner CAE in Phoenix. Upon completion of the program, pilots will be offered a position as a first officer in an Embraer E190.
A 2013 rule change by the Federal Aviation Administration requires first officers to hold an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) rating, which demands 1,500 hours of logged flight time. Previously, co-pilots were only required to hold a Commercial rating, which needs only 250 total hours.
The new hour requirement did not create the pilot shortage, but it has made things much, much worse, Jim Record, professor at Dowling College’s School of Aviation said. Several U.S. airlines have looked into creating such programs.
“There are a lot fewer pilots willing to get to 1500 hours,” Record said. “Some of these guys just run out of money.”
Prior to the change, many airline pilots built the necessary experience needed to become a captain — and the ATP rating — while acting as first officer. Some airlines had larger requirements for applicants, an pilots built the time towing banners above beaches, teaching students at local airports, or flying for the military.
The new program may very well be the way of the future; already, the German airline Lufthansa has installed a similar program which can place pilots in the right seat with only 240 hours with a “Multiple-crew Pilots Licence.”
The pilot shortage is already causing chaos in the industry; just last month, regional airline Republic Airways filed for bankruptcy, citing in part an inability to fill its cockpits.
But for now, JetBlue is being cautious: the airline hired 300 pilots last year, a number into which 24 new candidates will make only a small dent.
“It’s a start,” Record said.
The aviation community is traditionally sceptical about changes to pilot training, and some, including Record — a former Naval Aviator and airline pilot — maintain doubts about the quality of pilots that an accelerated airline program can create as compared to more traditional pathways.
“These guys who are towing banners or doing charters are getting real-world experiences; they’re dealing with problems, they’re dealing with weather, thunderstorms,” record said.
While these candidates receive training that is very specific to flying an airliner, it does not immediately make them good pilots.
“I’ve heard the expression ‘Robot in the right seat,'” Record said. “Will they be good airline pilots? I’m sure they will.”
But perhaps not right from the outset.