Delta Air Lines has launched a program aimed at helping college students and current employees who want to become pilots navigate their way into the cockpit.
Landing a coveted Delta pilot interview is something of a mystery for pilots wanting a job with the airline. The program announced Tuesday aims to clear up confusion, at least for aviation students and existing Delta employees.
The Atlanta-based airline is partnering with eight accredited university aviation programs — including Minnesota State University, Mankato, and University of North Dakota — on the project, dubbed “Propel.”
Delta expects to hire more than 8,000 pilots over the next decade, including replacements for current pilots who reach mandatory retirement age. The program also aims to ensure quality applicants in the future.
Interested aviation students at the schools will be given a chance to interview with Delta. Candidates who impress will then receive what Delta calls a “qualified job offer” that provides a clear path and expedited timeline to becoming a Delta pilot.
“We know that one of the things we can do better is make sure parents and students understand this career — helping them see that a career as a pilot is possible,” said Brent Knoblauch, a Delta pilot who helped develop and run the campus program. “The college program is meant to be a very defined path.”
Students accepted into Propel will be required to fly for a maximum of 42 months with a Delta Connection carrier. These are regional airlines that fly shorter routes on smaller aircraft under the Delta name, often at lower pay. Students in the program also can spend some or all of those 42 months flying military aircraft for the Air National Guard or Reserve, or doing a job-share split — flying part-time for Delta Private Jets and part-time as a flight instructor for one of Delta’s partner universities.
After that, they have a guaranteed job as a Delta mainline first officer.
Delta first officers start out at between $88 and $299 an hour in their first year. Captains make as much as $326 an hour on the airline’s largest aircraft, according to data compiled by the website Airline Pilot Central. Compare that to Endeavor Air, a regional jet carrier wholly owned by Delta, which starts its first officers at about $50 an hour, while captains make up to $122 an hour after 15 years. Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit the number of flight hours to 100 per month, though many don’t fly more than 80.
Knoblauch and his campus outreach colleagues visited more than 25 schools, selecting the first eight for the quality of their aviation training and geographic proximity to Delta hubs. The other schools include Auburn University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott, Middle Georgia State University, Middle Tennessee State University and Western Michigan University.
The employee program is a bit more competitive, but is meant to give existing Delta employees an opportunity to transition to the pilot seat. Ashish Naran, a Delta pilot overseeing the internal program, said there were about 2,000 employees from across the company’s more than 80,000-person workforce who showed varying levels of interest in becoming a pilot on a recent survey. Naran said on his two most recent flights, he worked with flight attendants who were working on their flight training.
“They know the industry. They know our core values,” Naran said.
Employees can apply for the highly selective program. Those chosen for it will have to earn their remaining certificates and ratings, build up their time as a certified flight instructor and work for a Delta Connection carrier for a maximum of 42 months.
The college program is a long-term solution to what many industry experts have warned is a looming pilot shortage. However, there are plenty of pilots at regional carriers around the United States who would love an opportunity to work for a major airline like Delta.
“We have plenty of high, high quality pilots trying to get into Delta right now, but the retirement curve isn’t going to change, which is why this [college] program is so important,” Knoblauch said.
For outside candidates looking to crack the Delta shell, Naran said the company is always looking for candidates with a track record of leadership and community volunteering.
“Not only do we want the most focused and brightest pilots, we want to see what they are doing outside the flight deck as well,” Naran said.