United Airlines’ flight school in Goodyear could help pilot shortage

United Airlines showed Arizona's Family its Unite Aviate Academy. Demand is growing for the fast nation's only airline-owned flight school.
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 10:09 AM MST|Updated: May. 10, 2022 at 10:10 AM MST
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GOODYEAR, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There’s a final safety check and the engine roars to life. It’s a short taxi to the runway and then there’s a moment. It’s right at take-off. “You are in the zone,” said Abby Awosanya. “Getting the airspeed rolling and starting to go really fast and then you lift up, you feel like you’re floating. You’re flying.”

Awosanya is training to become a commercial pilot. It was always the dream, but it wasn’t always the career path. Awosanya got a degree in psychology and was doing clinical research. Still, she couldn’t shake her love of flying. “It was something that has been on the back of my mind my entire life,” she said. “But I could never express it to anyone because at the time, kind of felt like an idea that was so out there and unachievable and unattainable.”

Trying to solve the pilot shortage

It’s expensive to become a commercial pilot and it takes a long time to log enough hours in the air. Plus, there aren’t many women in the industry. According to United Airlines, less than 20% of the airline’s pilots are women or people of color. According to Marc Champion, the managing director of flight training at United, the airline’s flight school, United Aviate Academy, will focus on recruiting women and minorities. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of opportunity to bring new people onto United Airlines’ flight decks by appealing to groups that are underrepresented in our industry.”

United Aviate Academy opened earlier this year in Goodyear. The airline is the only major carrier to operate its own flight training school. Champion says it will be critical to combat a shortage of pilots as demand for air travel grows and pilots retire. “As we look at the growth that we expect in this industry, over the next couple of decades, we are doing the math and we are realizing that the math isn’t adding up the way we need it to. And so we are going out and doing what we need to do to make sure we have a steady flow of pilots into United Airlines for decades to come,” Champion told 3 On Your Side. “I personally believe we’re probably in about a three to five year period where we’re going to be a little bit short of what the industry needs to supply all of the carriers out there.”

Big goals for the next 10 years

Right now, there are about 120 students at United Aviate Academy. Ultimately, Champion says the goal is to produce 5,000 new pilots by 2030. Marcel Kimbrel is a certified flight instructor at United Aviate Academy. He is also on his way to the commercial cockpit. “I was a flight attendant for United Airlines, and of course, the pandemic hit, and I decided, you know what, I need to follow my dreams that I should have done a long time ago,” Kimbrel said. “I took out all of my savings. I said if I really want to do this, let me put in the investment. I’m going to sacrifice.” United Aviate Academy’s program costs $71,250. Scholarships and loans are available.