In a controversial move that could take off (pun intended) if everything goes well, JetBlue has decided to train 24 people to become pilots. This program has been dubbed “Gateway 7,” and breaks the current conventional airline hiring mold. If you are unfamiliar with how to become a pilot, traditionally students spend oodles of money for their flight training. After flight training students often become flight instructors earning enough hours to become commercial airline pilots.
Typically, flight instructors would only meet hours qualifications at the regional airline level for airlines such as: Republic Airways, Air Wisconsin, Compass Airlines, etc. These would be the airline industry’s entry level positions. In the past, after spending a few short years at a regional airline, pilots would meet the minimum requirements to be hired by legacy carriers and could continue their careers at major airlines such as Delta, United, American.
Over the years, of course, the business model has changed. President Bush upped the retirement age from 60 to 65 giving pilots an extra five years to work. Because of the downturn in the airline industry after 9/11, many pilots put off retiring due to the various concessions they had to take.
While discussing JetBlue’s bold move with a Delta pilot, he stated, “I would have retired years ago if I hadn’t lost my pension.” For this reason, the hiring at the legacy carriers have remained little to stagnant. In return this means pilots are “stuck” at regional airlines with little quality of life.
In an ever-changing industry, airlines like Virgin America, JetBlue, and Spirit have become on par with the legacy careers for career advancement. These airlines have become more lenient on their standards and have dropped requirements such as needing a bachelor’s degree or the amount of pilot in command time needed (hours earned flying as a captain), affording more pilots the opportunity to be hired.
This allows JetBlue to “assess early whether someone would make a great JetBlue pilot and get them on the path.”
JetBlue says it is not trying to circumvent the pilot shortage by offering their own work around, rather they are simply supplementing the six other recruiting processes already in place. This allows JetBlue to “assess early whether someone would make a great JetBlue pilot and get them on the path,” Doug McGraw, and airline spokesman said.
Through a rigorous selection process, JetBlue will choose 24 people who have little to no previous aviation experience for their program. The initial focus will be on their Brazilian Embraer 190, but if the program proves successful, it could extend to their Airbus fleet. JetBlue plans to begin accepting applications in the first quarter and to open training in mid-2016. Successful trainees would join the airline as first officers in 2020.
While this is a practice in many European and Asian countries, it’s a new endeavor in the US airline market. Gateway 7 has not been welcomed with opened arms. Captain Jim Bigham, chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association union at JetBlue, told Bloomberg that the union is against the Gateway 7 proposal. “We think there are thousands of pilots available that have higher qualifications right now than any pilot coming out of [a from the beginning] program.” I have talked to a few pilots regarding the shake up JetBlue is offering, and the general consensus amongst pilots seems to be that there is already enough qualified pilots.
I would love to hear your thoughts on JetBlue’s latest venture. Please leave them in the comments below!