Lone Star College trains pilots to address shortage

By Rocelyn J. Bastian

The aviation industry has largely recovered from the Covid pandemic, but Boeing Aircraft Company indicates that mandatory retirements for pilots aged 65 will cause a deficit of nearly 650,000 pilots within the next 20 years.

The Lone Star College (LSC)-Montgomery professional pilot program is working to produce trained certified aviators to handle the anticipated shortage.

“There is a significant need for trained pilots due to the rapid growth of the industry around the world, amplified by senior pilots who reach mandated retirement age,” said John Blum, professional pilot program director at LSC. “Lone Star College’s program graduates certified pilots qualified to operate sophisticated aircraft for airlines, corporate flight departments or general aviation.”

The pilot program, located at LSC-Conroe Center, trains students to earn the Federal Aviation Administration pilot certificates and ratings required by the aviation industry. Graduates are immediately prepared to start their professional careers by serving as flight instructors, gaining valuable operational experience and earning a paycheck.

“The professional pilot program has become a cornerstone of my aviation journey,” said Holly Peters, a pilot student at the college. “I have thrived in the program, benefiting from the firsthand, intensive training opportunities and the support from my instructors.”

A special student-turned-instructor

Ashley Christian-Kapalske grew up with a passion for aviation instilled by her father, a United Airlines pilot. She earned her private pilot and instrument licenses at age 17 and has attained five more certifications. Christian-Kapalske became an LSC-Montgomery professional pilot program flight instructor at 19 and was promoted to lead flight instructor at age 20. She graduated from LSC-Montgomery with an associate of arts degree and earned a bachelor of science in aviation management from Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

“There are many people who might be interested in becoming pilots, but they may not know where to start,” said Christian-Kapalske. LSC’s program “offers a quality and affordable training opportunity to those seeking to enter the aviation field.”

Other challenges

Christian-Kapalske, now 22 and a first officer with SkyWest Airlines, said other factors outside of mandatory retirement also contribute to the pilot shortages such as low salary, expensive program costs, lack of knowledge on training opportunities and the challenging certification and educational requirements.

“In the past, pilots were not treated well in terms of their salaries, travel rules and accommodations, which discouraged the younger generation from becoming pilots, hence the desperate need for more pilots, especially at regional airlines,” she said. “Today, the industry has come a long way in recognizing and compensating the hard work that pilots provide to the travel community.”

LSC’s program began in spring 2019 with the first cohort starting their academic and flight training in spring 2020. The program has 32 graduates serving as flight instructors, corporate pilots or regional airline pilots with Ameriflight, Commute Air, Envoy, Mesa Airlines, Republic Airways, SkyWest and Southwest Airlines.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Rocelyn J. Bastian

is manager of media relations at Lone Star College in Texas.