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Airlines: Pilots wanted

April 14, 2000
Web posted at: 12:47 p.m. EDT (1647 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- With the number of air travelers expected to nearly double in 10 years, airlines plan to buy 2,000 new jets. Now they're trying to find enough pilots to fill the cockpits.

ASA Airlines is one carrier in the midst of a hiring boom. "We currently have slightly over 1,000 pilots," says ASA President Skip Barnette, "and we plan to double the size of the airline over the next four years, so we would add about 1,000 pilots in that range."

Rob Witson, a 36-year-old former police officer, says the timing was right to get his commercial pilot's license.

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"I knew that I always wanted to be a pilot," he says. "Fortunately for me, the industry is in need of pilots. And I'm at an age where I'm not too old to get into in and benefit from it."

The job market for new pilots like Witson looks promising. In 1993, all the airlines hired about 5,400 pilots. Last year, they signed up 16,000. And it may reach 20,000 by 2005, with hiring remaining constant until 2010.

Mandatory retirement for aging pilots is another reason for the emphasis on putting newcomers in cockpits. The Federal Aviation Administration requires commercial pilots to turn in their licenses at age 60. This rule will affect many of the Vietnam-era pilots who were hired 25 or 30 years ago.

Reworking recruiting guidelines

To stock up on pilots, airlines are making it easier to get hired and expanding the talent pool. Commercial flying, once almost exclusively the domain of while males, is opening to women and minorities as airlines actively recruit them.

Delta recently revoked a nepotism clause that barred family members from working for the airline at the same time. That opens the way for a father and daughter, for example, to both work as pilots for the carrier. Delta's commuter service, ASA, has agreed to pay out-of-pocket expenses for certain pilot training.

TWA no longer requires its pilots to hold a college degree. Some airlines now allow pilots to wear contact lenses or glasses. Airlines also are requiring less hours of flying for new hires, reasoning that newcomers who have spent more time in computerized simulators than their older peers will not compromise safety in real-life situations.

Universities that offer aviation degrees say their enrollments also are up, adding depth to the pilot talent pool.

For his part, Witson says he's ready to fly. In four years, when he's 40, Witson says, he'll have enough experience to get a job with a major airline, where he plans to stay until he's 60 and more new pilots flock to take his place.

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