United Airlines to hire 10,000 pilots over next decade to offset retiring captains

Calling all pilots – United Airlines hopes to hire 10,000 aviators by 2029, as nearly half of the airline's 12,500 pilots are estimated to retire within that period.

To sweeten the deal, the carrier is considering offering financial incentives like loan forgiveness and loan guarantees, given the sky-high price tag of specialized training.

The Chicago-based carrier announced the new recruitment program, called Aviate, on Oct. 3, touting the plan as the “most direct path to flying for United” at any stage career stage, as well as “the quickest progression from college to the rank of first officer of any major airline program in the industry.”

"With nearly half of our 12,500 pilots retiring in the next decade, combined with a period of strong growth at our airline, United is uniquely positioned to offer pilots the opportunity to get where they want to go in their careers faster than ever," Bryan Quigley, United's senior vice president of flight operations and chief pilot, said in a news release.

According to Bloomberg, necessary schooling and the minimum 1,500 flight training hours for aspiring aviators can cost as much as $100,000.

“That financial barrier has thinned pilot ranks and forced regional airlines to boost pay and signing bonuses,” per Bloomberg.

To that end, Quigley said that United is looking into financial incentives like loan forgiveness and loan guarantees to help potential candidates make it work.

“One of the big barriers to get into the profession is the cost of getting their certification,” the United exec told CNBC.

In addition, United hopes to recruit new hires by offering “the fastest path within the industry” to work for a major airline, requiring applicants to spend a minimum of 24 months and 2,000 hours with an Aviate regional partner.

United, however, isn’t the only carrier hustling to hire more pilots amid waning recruitment numbers.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force is facing hurdles in hiring their own aviators, Quigley, a former Navy pilot, told Bloomberg. Commercial competitors including Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue have all also launched similar programs hoping to ramp up aviator recruitment within the last year, too.

Reps for United were not immediately available to offer further comment on the story.

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