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Indy-based aviation program helps pilot careers take off

Hiring Hoosiers
Posted at 5:30 AM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 18:25:28-05

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INDIANAPOLIS — The world is facing a massive pilot shortage that is only going to continue to grow throughout the next decade.

According to Matt Koscal, senior vice president and chief administrative officer Republic Airways and LIFT Academy, 600,000 pilots need to be trained across the globe in the next five to 10 years in order to fill the gap.

"A lot of it is because we have not done a good job as an industry, attracting folks to what the aviation world has to offer," Koscal said. "We haven't focused on getting to middle schools and getting into high schools, with programs that introduce our youth to aviation at a young age when they are making those decisions."

Koscal is part of the creation of the Indianapolis-based aviation academy that is designed to attract the next generation of aviators to this industry. LIFT Academy is putting high school graduates on a three-year path to go from the classroom to the cockpits of commercial aircrafts.


LIFT Academy costs $65,000 from start to finish, an investment to a promise of a long career. This new program, started in 2018, is sponsored by Republic Airways.

"We are an extension of our airline, so LIFT Academy is a part of Republic Airways, and we are training to our Part 121 commercial Republic Standard," Koscal said. "As opposed to most flight schools when you go in, they are training folks to be a commercial pilot in a lot of different settings. We have a focus on training folks to be successful flying in our commercial operation."

In the academy, students are trained by aviation professionals in a classroom setting, on advanced flight simulators, and in aircrafts.

Mike Shawd is a newly-certified flight instructor at LIFT Academy.

"My dream job — be an airline pilot," Shawd said." I get to come to work and I get to fly airplanes, 30,000 feet in the sky for a living versus sitting behind a desk."

After college, Shawd says he worked a sales job for two years while getting his pilot's license. He then took his hobby to the next level with a learning opportunity at LIFT.

"Coming to LIFT it kind of allowed me to [get] fully immersed into aviation," Shawd said. "This really allowed me to dive into the studies, be around people that are really going through the same thing I am going through."

LIFT Academy is job placement focused, making this an available opportunity for Hoosier aviation enthusiasts to get their career off the ground.

"Students who actually come into LIFT Academy upon admissions acceptance to LIFT Academy, also have guaranteed employment with Republic Airways as a first officer," Koscal said.

When students complete their two years of training, LIFT will hire them as a flight instructor, a job that pays $30 an hour, as they work up to their 1,500 flight hours.

"Once that is done, they will automatically matriculate to our first officer program," Koscal said. "They will start with Republic Airways as a first officer, flying the E-Jet program, flying our 170, 175 E-Jets. And we fly those for our three coach partners, American, Delta, and United Airlines. Those students will make a first year pay of about $60,000 and upgrading to captain in about three years, but in five years they will be making $100,000 annually."

LIFT is gearing up young Hoosiers to fill the looming empty cockpits, and creating the future workforce in the state with direct paths of employment.

High school grads can be set up to do a two-year program with LIFT that they can accompany with an associate’s degree from Vincennes University.

LIFT also has an advanced program option for returning military and second career individuals.

"Those folks will have an advanced program that takes them through the flight training in one year," Koscal said. "So as opposed to taking two years to take your flight training and get your competency built, they will get through that program on an accelerated path that is going to be about double the amount of time here in the classroom and in the cockpit."

Republic will offer financing opportunities and a loan assistance program.

Upon graduation, students will have a private pilot certificate, instrument rating, multi-engine certification, commercial certificate, and a Certified Flight Instructor after the first year.

Along with trying to create the future of world's pilots in the aviation industry, LIFT Academy is focusing on the diversity in the cockpits of all the airlines across the US.

"Over 90 percent of the flight cockpit crew is caucasian, male," Koscal said. "There is a huge need to provide additional opportunities for minorities, women, and folks from underprivileged backgrounds to get into aviation and LIFT is truly targeting that effort, we are working to make the field of aviation more accessible and more visible in schools that never had an aviation program."

Koscal says this is all in an effort to provide a solution to the global pilot shortage.

"The biggest challenge over the next couple decades is how do we get enough skilled workers engaged in our businesses," Koscal said. "And LIFT Academy is designed to be self-help. We decided to no longer wait for collaborative solutions to come from our legislatures and our regulators but to come out and design a program that really created a new access point to aviation for students who have an interest. So it really was a key strategic opportunity to focus on to ensure we had the workforce to meet our future growth demands."

To qualify, applicants must be at least 18 years old, be graduating from a high school in Indiana or a surrounding state, which Koscal says is LIFT's target audience. Those individuals then will have to pass an assessment where they will be taken on a flight and have a written assessment.

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