EXCLUSIVE LOOK: Rise in local pilot training amid pilot shortage, protests

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 10:27 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - While the pilot shortage is likely to be the new normal, there’s no shortage of interest in pilot training, says a local aviation school.

“We have people just flooding to the school wanting the opportunity to learn how to fly,” explained Aaron Hollewell, director of the Peachtree City campus of the Academy of Aviation. The company owns several locations across the southeast and trains students from 36 countries.

It’s a tale of two stories right now. Thursday, Delta pilots in Atlanta and around the nation, protested their workloads, claiming to be underpaid and overworked. They say their current conditions just won’t fly.

However, local pilot training schools are all but cutting back flights. The Academy of Aviation confirmed to CBS46 that it’s had a 350% jump in enrollment this summer.

“It’s [people of] all walks of life. It’s varied from one end to the other.” Hollewell continued, “We have a lot of people who are career-changing - people who have done the grind of life and are looking for fun.”

The director says each trainer can oversee about 15 to 20 students in a session.

The rise in pilot training is far from an overnight fix for this season’s travel delays and staff shortages.

He’s empathetic to the current pilots who spent the day picketing outside Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

“It’s a frustrating experience and I understand where their frustration lies, but likely the answer is there isn’t a quick answer to it.”

Abdul Alhazmi is proof there’s no quick process. He’s enjoyed the long months and the long hours.

“Two years,” he said of his nearly completed courses. Due to the basic certification plus the 1500-hour requirements, it takes between 18 months to three years to become a commercial airline pilot.

Abdul’s final test is Friday. Despite the nerves, it’s been exciting.

“It was mostly fun, to be honest. It’s not that hard,” he laughed.

After airlines cut back on contracts and offered pilots early retirement to stay afloat during the pandemic, it’s now a game of catch-up as travel takes off. Hollewell hopes his school is one of the solutions.

“There’s no better time to be in aviation than right now.”

Some experts warned this spring that the pilot shortage may not peak until 2023.