Guest Column: Future pilots can take flight through flyGATEWAY
By Regis de Ramel with Lizzy Quinton
I have a confession: I didn’t exactly enjoy school. But when in flight, I felt alive. My first flight was in a small plane, and the feeling of the wind and freedom of flying over traffic and the cars below me made me think others should enjoy the same freedom.
At the time, I thought getting a pilot license was expensive, dangerous and difficult to achieve. However, I came to find that there are many paths in commercial aviation – one of which led me to aircraft sales. A close friend suggested I look into working for Cirrus Aircraft, which was building a small but very high-tech aircraft equipped with an entire aircraft parachute system. And best of all, I was getting paid to fly!
Working for Cirrus Aircraft led me to Delaware, where I later found an opportunity to purchase and run my own Cirrus Authorized Service Center, now called flyADVANCED. Today, we have close to 200 employees and a burgeoning managed and charter fleet with more than 60 aircraft. As we grew, I came to see that pilots were in great demand. We lost pilots and maintenance technicians to major airlines faster than we could replace them. I saw an unmet need across the United States: pilots. Boeing recently projected the airlines would need 800,000 new pilots over the next 20 years – and that doesn’t even include maintenance technicians.
At the same time, pilot wages have risen dramatically. After 9/11 and the 2008/2009 financial meltdowns, several flight schools went out of business. This left our country with a huge pilot shortage. While airlines grew, and their current Baby Boomer pilots retired (65 is the mandatory retirement age), the pilot shortage grew. This forced airlines to increase pilot wages tremendously.
Careers in the airline industry offer starting salaries of $65,000, with upward of $80,000 signing bonuses, and salaries quickly advancing with captains at the major airlines making half a million a year. That’s all without mentioning travel benefits and flexible work schedules.
That’s why I created flyGATEWAY, a nonprofit that provides an efficient and accessible career pathway into aviation. We cultivate future pilots and maintenance technicians through our vocational aerospace campus right here in Delaware. Our campus provides vocational training for pilots, and eventually it will serve mechanics and UAV technicians already operating in the aerospace industry. We can do this better than anyone else precisely because we are right here in Delaware. We sit between three large metro markets with lots of potential employees – New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. – situated within a two-hour drive, or 30-minute flight!
At flyGATEWAY, students can gain the credentials they need to enter a career in the airline or commercial aviation industry in less than 18 months. This is a high potential career pathway for Delaware students.
Winning the first night of the Pete DuPont Reinventing Delaware competition and moving on to the semifinals made me realize others here in Delaware share my vision, and the urgency to provide meaningful career paths to high school students, along with alternatives to the burden of college debt and uncertain employment. Working with Social Contract will enable us to become the gold standard in aviation flight training and break through any financial barriers that are holding students back from accessing this pathway.
Over the next few months, we plan to work with school and community partners to cultivate an unmatched talent pipeline into the airlines. We aim to make Delaware a recruitment destination for all carriers and others in the aerospace industry; and are committed to figuring out an innovative financing model so that 100 Delaware youth (per year) can easily finance this pathway to a solid future in the aviation industry. Right now, we are exploring potential avenues in recycled sustainable financing and social impact bonds so that students who have the aptitude, but lack the financial resources, can get ahead.
With more than 100 youth in Delaware taking flight every year, this state will be the aerospace hub that attracts masses of local and global students. We believe there will be a substantial increase in graduation rates, jobs, and economic growth. More people will be motivated to stay in this area long-term. flyGATEWAY will produce a thriving social impact that will transform the outcomes of hundreds of students.
Regis de Ramel is founder and chairman of flyGATEWAY and Lizzy Quinton is executive director.