Suddenly, pilots in demand again; Big airlines hiring from regional ones

Aspiring pilots, take heart.

The job market is sparkling for fliers just starting their careers.

Regional carriers such as Great Lakes Aviation and Big Sky Airlines have been snapping up novice pilots fresh out of flight school as they expand operations to meet growing demand.

It's a welcome change from recent years, when new pilots struggled to find jobs .

"Everyone's getting hired," said Audrey Sculley, who graduated from Metropolitan State College of Denver in December with a bachelor's degree in aviation technology. "It was really discouraging the first year of aviation classes. A lot of professors were saying to start looking for another career, that there were no jobs and no future. But now it's just flipped."

After graduating, Sculley took a job as a flight instructor at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield while working toward her multiengine rating. With that in hand, she's ready to look for jobs at regional airlines.

"All the flight instructors here from when I started are gone. Everybody just got hired" by commercial carriers, she said. "The way they're hiring, I'll definitely have a job by the end of the year."

Regional airlines, which typically fly small planes and short routes, are growing as they take on more flying for larger carriers such as United Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

New pilots typically start at a regional airline before moving up to a larger carrier. The large airlines hadn't been hiring, so fewer pilots at the regionals were leaving.

"We went through a phase where the major airlines were no longer hiring regional pilots, so regional airlines were no longer hiring pilots," said Monica Taylor, spokeswoman for regional airline Great Lakes Aviation. "The majors are all hiring again, and that's opening up positions with us."

James Simmons, an associate professor of aviation and aerospace science at Metro, said he's seen a remarkable change.

"What we're finding is that our students are even able to get hired without going through what is normally considered their 'paying dues phase,' where they are flight instructors for several years," Simmons said.

"We used to tell students that the airlines won't even look at you until you have 1,000 hours of flight experience. We have had some of our students recently who were hired with under 400 hours of flight experience."

Still, new pilots won't be rolling in dough. Salaries can start at less than $20,000 a year.


On the move

Airlines in Denver are hiring workers amid an uptick in traffic and a continuing recovery from the 2001 terrorist attacks. Some expanding carriers:

* Frontier Airlines: Hiring roughly 400 positions - many of them in Denver - by April. Also, Frontier's new subsidiary, Lynx Aviation, has hired 100 workers and will bring on 300 more as it ramps up operations.

* Southwest Airlines: Adding 60 local positions - primarily customer service agents and ramp workers - as it gears up to triple its service. The move will increase its work force here by about 50 percent.

* United Airlines: Has hired 90 customer service agents and ramp workers in Denver. Last week, it started taking applications for 100 new pilots, some of whom might be based in Denver.

* Republic Airlines: Has 70 workers in Denver and will hire several hundred more, including an undetermined number here, as it begins flying 13 more jets for Frontier during the next year.

* SkyWest Airlines: Recently opened a new maintenance hangar in Colorado Springs and employs 80 workers there. It expects to fill 20 more positions there this year.