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FedEx Express has launched a pilot training scheme as one airline association warns of a “endemic” pilot shortage across the US.

The express operator’s Purple Runway programme will assist feeder carriers Mountain Air Cargo and Empire Airlines in recruiting and developing pilots.

FedEx chief executive Fred Smith said the programme would play an “important role in the continuing success” of both the company and its third-party feeder carriers.

“FedEx is initiating a new, industry-leading development programme to ensure a full pipeline of pilots for us and the industry at large,” said Mr Smith.

“The programme is designed to assist our feeder operators with recruitment and retention of pilots who wish to develop skills and experience to qualify for opportunities at FedEx.”

An initial outreach scheme will be run to promote aviation to students at Delta State University, with plans to roll this out to other universities in the future.

Purple Runway’s launch follows US regional carrier Great Lakes’ decision to suspend services, with Regional Airlines Association boss Faye Malarkey Black blaming “endemic” pilot shortages.

“As unprecedented numbers of major airline pilots reach mandatory retirement age, those airlines are hiring regional airline pilots,” said the RAA president.

“[This recruitment drive] is running at a rate far outpacing the supply of new pilots entering the pipeline.”

Both Empire and Mountain Air are classed as regional US carriers – the former covering the western US and the latter providing services to the east coast and Caribbean.

With Ms Black citing “high” training costs and a lack of pilot support, the news from FedEx will likely offer some respite, but she was unavailable for comment as The Loadstar went to press today.

“A pilot’s lifetime earnings are higher than ever, and the ROI on training is excellent – better than doctors and lawyers,” she added. “Unfortunately, most Americans lack the wealth or ability to secure private loans needed to access this career in the first place.”

Pilots spend up to $200,000 on training and up to two years between graduation and hire accumulating flight time outside of the structured training environment.

During this time, Ms Black said, pilots receive no additional training, adding the emphasis on flight hours had translated into reduced proficiency among pilots.

In particular, Ms Black slammed the 2013 First Officer Qualification Rule, which requires candidates to have accumulated 1,500 hours flight time before being granted a licence.

“The emphasis on hours has translated into reduced proficiency among candidates qualified for hire, and airlines now fail more pilot candidates than before the rule,” she said.

“Attempts to lower these costs and facilitate airline support for pilot training have been met with political resistance and cynical, false accusations of circumventing safety.”

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  • Sherman Kensinga

    April 04, 2018 at 1:12 am

    No, pilot lifetime earnings are not “higher than ever”, they are certainly the lowest they have ever been. From decades suffering at the new regionals, to pay at majors just rising from pay negotiated in bankruptcy, to loss of huge pensions, it is at a record low and unlikely to rise long-term. Plus, airline pilots are flying more hours, more nights and weekends and holidays, than ever before. Cheaper hotels, cheaper benefits, tough and unpredictable schedules, no comparison to doctors or lawyers. Law schools and med schools are also expensive, and they are full, because the career is worth it.

    American kids stopped going into commercial flight schools because the career isn’t worth it. The internet and flow of information killed the supply of pilots. The reality of the aviation industry cutting pilot labor costs below what can attract young people, killed the supply of pilots.

    The 1,500-hour rule is certainly not a factor. Until relatively recently, major airlines and cargo would not take an application from a pilot with less than 3,000 hours. That dropped to 2,000 hours in the ’90s when airlines hired hard for years. It was a hard job to get and young climbed higher hurdles than they have now, because the job was worth it. If the 1,500-hour rule is eliminated, a few hundred pilots will leave their instructing positions at all the big flight academies, and they will shut down. They are already down to less than half the instructors they need, most stay less than a year.