Training the world's future pilots at SDSU, amid large shortage

Published: Feb. 26, 2017 at 4:07 PM CST
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They have survived a number of problems including terrorism, bankruptcy and consolidation. Now, the largest U.S. airlines face a new problem: they could start running out of pilots soon.

As KSFY News learned, programs nationwide are working to fill that gap with top-notch training. Courtney Collen learned how they're training the world's future pilots.

"You get this rush where instead of sitting in a chem lab, you're up flying a plane which not a lot of people can do. It's pretty cool what I'm doing for class," SDSU Senior Madison Yueill said.

Madison Yueill is a second-year Aviation Education student hoping to someday fly an international commercial airliner.

"I think there's only 7-10% of pilots are women so it's not very common. It's fun to be one of a few girls in our class," Yueill said.

Luke Yueill, Caitlin Bute is also a second-year student. They are both from Minnesota.

"My dad is a pilot for Southwest Airlines and I'm very proud of that. He's been my inspiration and motivation for a very long time," Caitlin Bute said

These women are among the 73 undergraduates in SDSU Aviation. Program coordinator, former airline pilot captain Dr. Cody Christensen says this is a smaller but safe and effective program. It's also the only accredited program in South Dakota.

"Our students make our job worthwhile. We can make a lot more money flying the line, as we call it. We have a passion for teaching, the program. We want to see students to succeed. We love when they come back and fly in their corporate jets, airlines, might call us up on the radio. It's a great environment to be in," Dr. Christensen said.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a pilot organization representing general aviation, a shortage of pilots is very real.

"In the next 20 years, we will need 112,000 new pilots and 118,000 new technicians in North America alone. There's a definite need," AOPA Representative Cindy Hasselbring said. "Right now, there's a lot of pilots at a certain age who will retire in a few years. We want to be mindful and be ready for the future to replace them."

Dr. Christensen says his students are well aware of that need.

"What we're seeing is a lot of our flight instructors or senior level students are being pulled to a regional airline level or being pulled to a corporate fleet where five years ago that wasn't even the case," Dr. Christensen said.

It's not just affecting North America.

"Looking internationally. There's a huge demand for pilots. They're offering double the salaries for airlines. We're seeing a big need in the domestic market when we look at regional airline. They're all hiring right now," he said.

Even though the job market looks good, SDSU is not about to compromise safety just to get students into the cockpit.

"Every single time we have an airline accident, or any type of incident, we all pay the cost in lives, property damage and lost resources. We have to make sure safety is paramount to what we do," Dr. Christensen said.

Until then, students will use every moment of learning on the ground or in the air to their advantage.

"Everytime I go up, I see something different. It's beautiful, it's fun, it's quiet. You can do anything. Makes you feel like you can do anything," Bute said.

"When I meet people, they ask 'what's your major?' and I say 'I'm in aviation' and they're surprised. It's not very common. It's a funny reaction to see people when I tell them," Yueill said.

Yueill and Bute will work towards a commercial pilots' license. Yueill is looking at a summer internship and gaining flight time hours at SDSU in the fall. SDSU's program has a 100% graduation rate and 100% job placement.

"It's nice to have that opportunity to know you have a little job security once you get through training. It's the perfect moment to get into the industry so I'm very thankful for that," Yueill said.

Yueill and Bute will work towards more flight hours, internships, FAA ratings and a commercial pilot's license.

According to a recent study by Boeing, the Asia-Pacific region will continue to lead with the most new jobs generated. But North America and Europe are also large generators of new airline jobs, largely because of an upcoming wave of retirements.

For more information about South Dakota State University Aviation or the AOPA, visit the link in the 'external links' section of this page.

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