The pilot shortage has prompted the airline to attract workers with interest-free loans

Last summer, as many travelers struggled with delayed or canceled flights, airlines repeatedly came up with the same excuse: Nothing enough pilots to keep up with demand.

Now, an airline is trying to bring more pilots to the fleet by removing the financial barriers to obtaining a license.

On Thursday, Mesa Air Group announced the purchase of 29 training planes for new pilots to use for racking up the federally mandated 1,500 hours in the air, along with plans to possibly acquire 75 more next year.

Flight time isn’t free, and often poses a barrier to would-be pilots, so Mesa plans to offer interest-free loans to ease the burden. Pilots in training with the airline will be eligible for up to 40 hours of flight time per week at $25 per hour, fully funded by Mesa.

Become a pilot

Mesa says the new training planes will form the backbone of its Mesa Pilot Development Program. “Our program is the most cost-effective and one of the fastest routes to a long-term career as a professional pilot,” said John Hornibrook, SVP Flight Operations for Mesa, in a press release. “We want to make it as easy as possible for a new field of candidates to join Mesa, including and especially people who may not have traditionally considered aviation.”

Those who take advantage of the program will also have priority status for employment with Mesa, and will pay off their debts within three years while working for the airline, where the first year’s salary is $100/hour, according to the company.

The pilot shortage will worsen

Earlier this month, management consulting firm Oliver Wyman issued a report which outlines the current shortage of 8,000 pilots in the commercial aviation industry, a shortage that is expected to grow to 80,000 within a decade.

“The pilot shortage will be a permanent part of the airline industry if we don’t get more aviators into the system,” said Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and CEO of Mesa, in the news release. “Without enough trained pilots, customers will suffer a loss of service and high ticket prices.”

The program is set to launch in Florida before expanding to Arizona next year. When the program is fully established, it is expected to accommodate more than 1,000 pilots per year and 2,000 flight hours per day.

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