American Airlines has kicked off a training and financing program for would-be pilots, extending efforts to address a looming shortage of aviators.

Students selected for the new American Airlines Cadet Academy would train for as long as 18 months at one of three flight schools aligned with the carrier. The students would have an option to obtain financing for the full cost, including room and board, through Discover Financial Services, American Airlines Group Inc. said in a statement.

A U.S. pilot shortage is expected to balloon to at least 15,000 positions by 2026, according to a 2016 study by the University of North Dakota’s Aviation Department, as more captains reach mandatory retirement and fewer young people choose aviation as a career. Major U.S. carriers are working with flight-training schools, and regional airlines have boosted pay and added signing bonuses to ensure that they can staff cockpits.

“The lack of financing options has restricted the size of the pilot pool, leaving some of the most talented people out of the running,” said Kimball Stone, American’s vice president for flight. Flight-training for a university commercial-aviation major can cost more than $60,000, before room and board.

Graduates of American’s cadet academy would get the chance to become first officers at one of the airline’s three wholly owned regional carriers. Eventually that could lead to positions at the parent airline.

Source: Bloomberg

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