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United Airlines

United Buys a Flight School to Solve Its Pilot Shortage

United Buys a Flight School to Solve Its Pilot Shortage
Taylor Rains

United Airlines announced Wednesday that it has bought the Westwind School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, Arizona as part of the development of the airline’s Aviate pilot program. The school will be renamed United Aviate Academy and is expected to have at least 300 graduates in its first year.

What is Aviate?

Aviate was launched last year and is United’s pilot recruitment program designed to be the quickest and most direct path to United Captain status. The program requires pilots to complete a minimum of 24 months of flying and 2,000 hours of regional cockpit time before becoming eligible for the mainline operation. Not only does the program offer a pipeline to one of the largest U.S. carriers, but it also provides mentorship, development, coaching, and travel benefits to students. Those that make it through the program will receive a conditional job offer from United and will never have to interview for a pilot position with the company again.

The New Academy

Students enrolled in United’s Aviate Academy will also be a part of the Aviate program. The new school will train experienced, quality pilots for the airline’s growing operation, and is offering prospective students “attractive financing terms,” as well as scholarship opportunities for women and minorities. Captain Bebe O’Neil, the Aviate Managing Director, explained, “Launching our own academy provides us with the unique opportunity to not only ensure we maintain the ideal number of quality candidates within our pilot pipeline, but also play a significant role in recruiting, developing and welcoming those with diverse backgrounds to the United family.”

Possible Pilot Shortage?

The carrier said that it plans to hire 10,000 new pilots by 2029, and although there is speculation the airline may suffer from a pilot shortage due to forced retirement, the carrier claims the opposite. Managing Direct of Pilot Strategy Curtis Brunjes explained, “We at United Airlines would say that we don’t have a pilot shortage and probably never would, however there is a lot of competition at United Express carriers for talent. The signing bonuses reflect that the regional carriers are competing over a less-than-robust pool of pilots relative to their needs.”

View Comments (3)


  1. aero0729

    February 5, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    What makes the media believe there is a pilot shortage? FALSE
    This academy is designed to STAFF THE REGIONALS. There is not shortage of pilots for United Airlines. If United wants 10,000 pilots tomorrow.. there are 10,000 pilots at American/DL regionals ready to go. They just want to staff their regionals and they are dealing with a PAY shortage. Look at the starting pay at United regionals and compare to the others. You will see… its not a shortage of pilots whatsover… its a shortage of pilots who will work for what United regionals want to pay.

  2. PaulMSN

    February 6, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    Are there qualified pilots available if the regional airlines upped the pay?

  3. strickerj

    February 7, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    I don’t think the lack of training opportunities is the issue; it’s the lack of return on investment. If med school cost what it does but then medicine only paid $30,000 a year to start, would anyone become doctors? That’s the situation with flight training. Scholarships are a good start, but why only for women and minorities?

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