How removing financial barriers could help alleviate pilot shortage

AeroGuard Flight School is working to partner with third parties to help provide merit-based financing.
Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 12:56 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Hannah Jacobson had a career as a flight attendant. She loved it, but becoming a commercial pilot is the dream for the single mom.

“It is a very pricey endeavor,” she said. “I looked into personal loans as an option and the interest rates were absolutely absurd. That was not something that was doable.”

Pilots-in-training are not eligible for traditional student loans for flight school. “It’s not like getting a degree at a university with the FAFSA and government financial solutions. For the most part, students are pretty much on their own to work out how they’re going to pay for and access the career path,” said James Constable, a spokesperson for AeroGuard Flight Training Center in Phoenix. The school has a new tuition partnership with Meritize that allows pilots-in-training to qualify for merit-based financing.

“A lot of our training pilots are younger, 18, 19, 20. They haven’t necessarily built up their credit score and that credit history, so the way [Meritize] look at funding someone’s training is based on other factors, namely their merit,” Constable said. “Grades at school, college history, if they have military experience, that kind of thing.”

Jacobson says the program allows her to focus on becoming a pilot, full-time. “Just the fact that I could finance it in a way that didn’t leave me completely penniless,” she said. “You can take care of the other responsibilities you have in life.”

Ultimately, the goal is to break down financial barriers to get more pilots in the air as demand for air travel grows and pilots retire. “The airlines are under a tight crunch right now coming out of Covid, but there’s also a pilot shortage forecasted for the next 20 years,” Constable said. “The airlines are going to need around 600,000 pilots worldwide, 130,000 here in the U.S.”

AeroGuard Flight Training Center is just one of the flight schools in the Phoenix metro area. As On Your Side reported last month, United Airlines opened United Aviate Academy in Goodyear. The airline is the only major U.S. carrier to own its own flight training school.

“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,” said Marc Champion, the managing director of flight training at United. “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.

Marisol Miramontes is working on her instrument rating at AeroGuard Flight Training Center. “It’s the second license out of seven in order to go to the airlines,” she said. Miramontes hopes to land an international route one day. “I think being a woman, and specifically a Latin female, I really want to diversify the whole airline community. I’ve never been on a flight where the pilot is female, so if I can bring diversity to that and hopefully encourage other women that are on that flight just by simply seeing me in the front of the airplane and doing all of this, I think that would be really great.”

Find more about financing tuition at the AeroGuard Flight Training Center here.