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Hiring Hoosiers: Aviation industry bounces back after turbulence from the pandemic

LIFT Academy is working to train pilots to fill a widening job gap.
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Posted at 9:55 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 01:56:42-04

INDIANAPOLIS — It has been a turbulent ride for the aviation industry after a year of COVID-related lock downs and travel plans put on standby.

Indianapolis-based flight school, LIFT Academy, is preparing future pilots as the industry turns around. But, they need students to fill a widening pilot gap in order for everyone’s travel plans to be able to take off.

Sarah Hayward is buckled in to take her career to new heights.

“It's really fulfilling to one day have never been in a small airplane and then a month later, solo, take a plane up on your own,” said Hayward, a flight instructor at LIFT Academy.

A career change post-college landed her in the cockpit. Hayward began flight school at LIFT in Indianapolis in April of 2019.

“I was on the route to be a veterinarian and I just couldn't see myself doing that for the rest of my life,” Hayward said.

Her flight plan will take her straight to Republic Airways. LIFT Academy partners with Republic to prepare pilots to get started with the airline immediately after graduating.

One of LIFT’s most recent graduates is Noah Franklin, he hit the ground running with Republic this summer.

“Now I will train for about two and a half months, learn the operation of the company and then I will become a first officer for Republic,” Franklin said.

Franklin is one of about 30 LIFT students that will start as a first officer with Republic this year.

According to the Bureau of Transportation, it has been smoother sailing for the industry. In May of this year, there were 55-million US Airlines Passengers. It is a drastic change from the same month in 2020, with barely 8-million passengers.

Plus, travel plans this year are trending up, with a nearly 16% increase in passengers from April to May of this year.

“In the next 20 years, Boeing reports over 700,000 pilots are needed across the world and over 700,000 mechanics are needed worldwide,” said Dana Donati, General Manager and Director of Academic Programs for LIFT Academy at Republic Airways.

LIFT Academy offers an accelerate program for students who want to become pilots. First, they prepare for the flight decks at regional airlines which gets them ready for careers with major airlines.

“Just in the next couple years, the three major airlines, American, Delta and United, they are going to be hiring thousands of pilots which means those pilots are going to come from the regional airlines like Republic,” Donati explained.

And while turbulence continues, the demand for travel continues to bounce back.

“Aviation definitely goes through its challenges, we have seen it with September 11, we have seen it with the 2008 recession and now the pandemic,” Donati said. “But there is always a need for travel and there is a demand there.”

The sky is the limit on this career path.

“Aviation is challenging, it's fun, it’s a fast moving industry,” Donati explained. “You get travel benefits, you get to move within a company pretty easily if you have different skills, you get to do different things associated with aviation, it is not just flying an airplane, it is not just maintaining an aircraft. My career I entered into the flight deck and now I am overseeing a flight school. So the more certifications and the more education you have within the industry, the more areas of growth.

LIFT Academy offers two programs. The flight program is a full time training environment. IT takes about 12 months to complete the training as a flight student, which takes someone from a private pilot certification all the way up to multi-engine certification. Students will then be a flight instructor at LIFT Academy until they are able to feed right into Republic Airways.

The other program is for aviation maintenance technicians which is an earn and learn module. Students will be earning a wage as they learn.

Females are in high demand to fuel positions within the aviation industry. The Women in Aviation Advisory Board of the Federal Aviation Administration is working to diversify aviation from CEO positions to flight crews.

According to Donati, currently 8% of airline transport pilots are females, 2.3% of aircraft mechanics are females and less than 3% of C-Suite employees are females.

“The numbers continue to be low, they haven't changed since the 1980's, so this board was put together to create recommendations and ideas on how we can change culture, on how we can create more awareness and outreach so every girl has the opportunity to consider this as a career,” Donati said.

LIFT Off – Females who Fly is LIFT’s third annual Girls in Aviation Day event, part of an initiative Women in Aviation International began in 2015. LIFT invites girls who are interested in STEM careers to join them to explore the vast opportunities available within aviation. Female leaders in aviation, airline captains, executives, technicians and more, will have a panel and group sessions to talk with the girls. All participants will receive an bag filled with LIFT giveaways and will be able to tour LIFT’s hangar and aircraft. Registration is free for the September 25 event that begins at 9:45 and ends at 12:30.

For more information on LIFT Academy:

For more information on the LIFT Off – Females Who Fly event:

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