Sunday, November 06, 2016

Cessna 177RG, N50770: Aircraft landed gear up

AIRCRAFT:   Cessna 177RG, N50770, serial number 177RG1135

ENGINE - M&M, S/N:  Lycoming IO-360 A1B6D, L-17522-51A

PROPELLER – M&M, S/N:   McCauley B2D34C207, 772452

APPROXIMATE TOTAL HOURS (estimated TT & TSMO from logbooks or other information): 5074.8

ENGINE:   5074.8 TT; 1518.4 TSMOH

PROPELLER:    5074.8 TT       

AIRFRAME:      5074.8                

OTHER EQUIPMENT:      Garmin GMA 340 Audio Panel; IIMorrow GX 50 GPS; Narco MK 12D TSO Nav/Com (X2); Cessna 300A Nav-O-Matic Auto Pilot; King KT 76A Transponder


DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGES:    Propeller and belly damages   

LOCATION OF AIRCRAFT:       Charleston Executive Airport, SC     

REMARKS:  Nice AC prior to incident. Logbooks with field adjuster.   

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Pilot Shortage Prompts Regional Airlines to Boost Starting Wages: Wave of retirements at major carriers, lengthier training are factors squeezing the industry

The Wall Street Journal
November 6, 2016 5:57 p.m. ET

Regional airlines that feed the nation’s biggest carriers are boosting starting wages to fight a pilot shortage, hoping to encourage aspiring aviators to endure what has become lengthier training.

Regional carriers are vital to the U.S. travel network, operating 44% of passenger flights in 2015 and providing the only flights to 65% of U.S. airports with scheduled service. They typically supply their own crews and planes, while big airlines set schedules, sell tickets and buy the fuel.

New wage scales introduced in recent months increase pay for some of their first-year aviators from around $20,000 to upward of $50,000 including bonuses, per-diem payments and training stipends.

“The marketplace for pilots is pretty tight right now,” said Capt. Tim Canoll, president of the largest pilot union, Air Line Pilots Association. “What we’re seeing is the operation of supply and demand economics.”

Pilots have long accepted what they call “food-stamp wages” for a foothold in a passion-driven industry and a shot at six-figure salaries at major carriers later in their careers. Often loaded with debt, new pilots make do while they wait to ascend the pay scale, hoping to quickly upgrade to captain, a rank that confers higher wages, even at regional carriers.

Congress put a kink in the supply chain in 2013 with a law mandating that most aspiring pilots fly 1,500 hours before being hired by a regional carrier, up from as few as 250 hours. That added years and tens of thousands of dollars to the investment pilots must make in training and working as flight instructors before moving up to fly commercial airliners.

The pilot rosters of major airlines are also being squeezed by a wave of retirements as aviators turn 65, spurring larger carriers to more aggressively recruit among regional partners. The bottleneck will leave the U.S. with a deficit of nearly 14,500 pilots in the next decade, according to the University of North Dakota, home to a premier aviation program.

“I wouldn’t say we can go out and hire as many pilots as we want,” said Ryan Gumm, chief executive of Endeavor Air, a wholly owned regional unit of Delta Air Lines Inc. Last year Endeavor raised its starting wage to $30 an hour from $25. It now offers a $20,000 annual retention reward, boosting it to $23,000 annually thereafter.

Some regional carriers were so short on pilots they weren’t able to fulfill schedules set by their major airline clients, leading to litigation. One, Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is reorganizing in bankruptcy. Carriers have pulled out of some marginal routes, cutting off access to smaller cities.

ExpressJet Airlines, a unit of SkyWest Inc., in February raised its starting pilots’ pay to as much as $40 an hour from a ceiling of $27. The company also raised the number of guaranteed monthly hours a pilot will be paid by 10 to 75. ExpressJet said it has attracted more candidates since compensation rose.

In September, three regional carriers wholly owned by American Airlines Group Inc. temporarily raised first-year pilots’ hourly pay. Subsidiary carriers often find it easier to do so because parent companies help cover costs, and don’t expect their regional units to build profit margins into their contracts.

The more numerous independents don’t have that luxury or formal arrangements for their pilots to be promoted into major carriers. Jonathan Ornstein, chief executive of Mesa Airlines Inc., keeps overhead low and hustles for added work in order to quicken the promotions of first officers to captain, which raises pay more quickly and is a recruitment lure to new pilots.

Jeff Mabry joined American’s subsidiary PSA Airlines in 2015 after six years amassing the necessary 1,500 hours of experience. He earned about $22,000 annually.

Now that PSA has raised hourly pay to $38.50 and offered a $20,000 retention bonus, Mr. Mabry said it’s “a great feeling to finally be paid a comfortable living.”

Based in Charlotte, N.C., the 26-year-old jet pilot doesn’t think airlines will be in a position to backtrack on higher pay anytime soon. “By 2018, it will probably be even more competitive to attract qualified pilots,” he said.

Story and comments:

Zenair STOL CH 801, local personal flight conducted under the provisions of Federal Code of Regulations Part 91, N801KJ: Accident occurred November 06, 2016 at Northport Airport (WI38), Royalton, Waupaca County, Wisconsin

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Royalton, WI
Accident Number: CEN17LA037
Date & Time: 11/06/2016, 1600 CDT
Registration: N801KJ
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 1 Minor
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On November 6, 2016, about 1600 central daylight time, an Zenith 801 homebuilt, experimental airplane, N801KJ, registered to the pilot, was destroyed by a postimpact fire after it impacted the ground while on approach to Runway 18 at the Northport Airport (WI38), Royalton, Wisconsin. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained minor injuries. The local personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Federal Code of Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed throughout the area and a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated about 1530 from WI38.

The pilot reported that he had built the airplane over the last 14 years. The airplane was approved for a 40-hour testing period on May 12, 2016, when it received it's continuous airworthiness inspection. The airplane was flown by the pilot on the day prior to the accident and he reported no mechanical anomalies.

The pilot provided a detailed account of the day's flight and accident on NTSB Form 6120. He reported that the purpose of the flight was to practice stalls and how the airplane responded. On the first flight of the day, the airplane stalled with full power at 38-39 mph, neither wing stalled first, and the flight was straight and stable. He landed with full flaps on the grass runway, and took off for more testing. He then performed a successful full-flap engine idle stall. The airplane stalled at 28-29 mph, both wings stayed level, and the airplane flew straight. He performed a tough and go landing, took off, and established the airplane on downwind, about 1,000 feet AGL, to set up for a full flap landing. He lowered the flaps and set the engine power to idle. The pilot discovered that the control stick would move, but he had no control of the airplane. The stick would move, but the airplane could not be controlled. The airplane impacted the ground and the pilot did not remember the crash. Neighbors helped to evacuate the pilot from the wreckage and local responders transported the pilot to a hospital. There were no eye-witnesses to the accident, however, a neighbor reported hearing the airplane and thought that he heard the engine backfire.

The airplane was totally consumed by a post-impact fire. An FAA inspector examined the wreckage, but due to the extent of fire damage, it was not possible to determine any pre-impact anomalies with the engine, flight controls, or flight control surfaces. The pilot reported that he did not believe that the airplane stalled.

The pilot also stated on NTSB Form 6120, that the 5-point harness that he installed on his homebuilt airplane probably saved his life.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 65, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 04/12/2016
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 08/01/2016
Flight Time:  (Estimated) 100 hours (Total, all aircraft), 13 hours (Total, this make and model), 1 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N801KJ
Model/Series: STOL CH 801 NO SERIES
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture:
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental Light Sport
Serial Number: 8-4899
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 05/01/2016, Condition
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection: 13 Hours
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 13 Hours at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer: Mazda Rotary
ELT: Not installed
Engine Model/Series:
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 100 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation:
Distance from Accident Site:
Observation Time:
Direction from Accident Site:
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility:  10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 5 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: /
Wind Direction: 180°
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: /
Altimeter Setting: 29.92 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 20°C / 16°C
Precipitation and Obscuration:
Departure Point: Royalton, WI (38WI)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Royalton, WI (38WI)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1530 CDT
Type of Airspace: Class E

Airport Information

Airport: Northport Airport (38WI)
Runway Surface Type: N/A
Airport Elevation: 800 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: N/A
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: Traffic Pattern 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor
Latitude, Longitude: 44.383333, -88.852500 (est)

NTSB Identification: CEN17LA037
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 06, 2016 in Royalton, WI
Aircraft: JOHNSON KENNETH R STOL CH 801, registration: N801KJ
Injuries: 1 Minor.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On November 6, 2016, about 1600 central daylight time, an Zenith 801 homebuilt experimental airplane, N801KJ, registered to the pilot, was destroyed by a post impact fire after it impacted the ground while on approach to Runway 18 at the Northport Airport (WI38), Royalton, Wisconsin. The private pilot, who was the sole occupant, sustained minor injuries. The local personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of Federal Code of Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed throughout the area and a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated about 1530 from WI38.

The pilot stated that after initial takeoff from WI38, he was practicing slow flight and stall maneuvers in the local area. After practicing the maneuvers for about 30 minutes, the pilot initiated a traffic pattern approach to runway 18. His intent was to execute a short filed landing on the grass airstrip. While turning on base leg to the runway, the airplane stalled and impacted the ground about 300 feet from the approach end of the runway. The pilot exited the wreckage and a post impact fire ensued. The pilot did not report any mechanical anomalies prior to the accident, and that the flaps were extended when he initially entered the pattern for landing.

Neighbors freed a New London resident from a crashed experimental aircraft moments before it exploded, according to Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office.

The crash occurred at the Poppy’s Flying Acres airfield in the town of Mukwa before 4:20 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6.

The man, who is not yet being identified by Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office, was transported to ThedaCare Medical Center-New London, Waupaca County Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Bosquez told the New London Press Star. Bosquez declined to comment on the man’s condition.

An “ear witness” heard the plane backfire, and a couple neighbors ran to the field to pull the pilot from the plane, Bosquez said. They and the pilot, who was the lone occupant of the plane, retreated 25 feet from the plane before it exploded and became fully engulfed, he said.

Bosquez called the neighbors’ response a “heroic” act. The sheriff’s office will only release their names with their consent, he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been contacted and will investigate the crash, Bosquez said.

Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office, New London Fire Department and Gold Cross Ambulance responded to the crash.


MUKWA, Wis. (WBAY) – The Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office says neighbors came to the rescue on Sunday after a single-engine plane crashed in the town of Mukwa. 

It happened at 4:22 p.m. on the N4100 block of Faskell Road, near a private airport.

The pilot was flying a new, home-built plane with less than 50 hours of flight time when it crashed. Neighbors who heard the crash helped remove the pilot from the cockpit moments before the plane’s fuel tank exploded.

The plane then erupted in flames. It’s considered a total loss.

The pilot, who was the only person inside the plane, was transported to a hospital in New London. The extent of the pilot’s injuries is unknown.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it will be on site to investigate the cause of the crash.

Cessna 172, N1805Y: Accident occurred August 15, 2015 in Venice, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Final Report: 

NTSB Identification: CEN15LA371
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Venice, LA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/16/2016
Aircraft: CESSNA 172C, registration: N1805Y
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot was conducting a cross-country personal flight. The pilot reported that, while the airplane was on landing approach with 20 degrees of flaps, an indicated airspeed of 60 mph, and a descent rate of 200 ft per minute, he saw a small rain squall 2 miles south of the airstrip, which was producing a light-to-moderate crosswind. Just before the airplane entered ground effect, its airspeed dropped, and the pilot then applied full power; however, the airplane touched down at the approach end of the runway, which was soft and muddy. The nose gear subsequently sank into the soft ground, and the airplane slid to a stop.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's failure to attain a safe landing approach airspeed with a crosswind.

On August 15, 2015, about 1130 central daylight time a Cessna 172C, N1805Y, nosed down after touching down on a soggy portion of the runway at Port Eads Airstrip, Venice, Louisiana. The pilot and two passengers received minor injuries. The airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and no flight plan had been filed. The cross-country flight originated Diamondhead, Mississippi, about 1030 and was destined for Port Eads.

In his accident report, the pilot said while he was on landing approach with 20 degrees of flaps, 60 miles per hour indicated airspeed, and a 200 feet per minute rate of descent, he said he saw a small [rain] squall two miles south of the airstrip producing a light to moderate crosswind. Just before entering ground effect, he noticed a drop in airspeed and he applied full power. The airplane touched down at the lower end of the runway which was soggy. The nose gear sank in the soft ground and the airplane slid to a stop. Post-accident examination has revealed a damaged wing spar and buckled firewall. The pilot's written statement given to the Federal Aviation Administration corroborated his accident report.

AIRCRAFT: 1962 Cessna 172 SN# 17249405 N1805Y

ENGINE:       Continental O-300-C  SN# 27509-D O-C

PROPELLER: McCauley 1C172EM7653

APPROXIMATE TOTAL HOURS (estimated TT & TSMO from logbooks or other information):

ENGINE:  TT unknown    179 SMOH (undocumented OH in 2001)

PROPELLER: 2543 TTSN -  251 SMOH in 1998                      

AIRFRAME:  2,543 TTAF                    

OTHER EQUIPMENT:  VAL 760 Com, KX175B, Apollo 604, Narco AT-150

DESCRIPTION OF ACCIDENT:  On 8/15/2015 the aircraft experienced a hard nose first landing breaking off the nose gear.
DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGES:    Nose gear snapped off, firewall and engine mount damage.  Propeller bent with sudden stoppage, lower cowl crushed, left wing damaged with damage to wing attachments.

LOCATION OF AIRCRAFT:    Southern Aircraft Recover in Baton Rouge, LA        

REMARKS:  Aircraft has been dismantled for recovery and transport to storage.

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Performance Air Group brings expertise in aircraft repairs to H.A. Clark Memorial Field Airport

Chad Thomas, owner of Performance Air Group.

Chad Thomas’s list of the types of airplanes he’s worked on is dizzyingly long. His mechanical experience spans from Cubs to King Airs to Citations and beyond, and even the students he once taught at Redstone College in Colorado were surprised at the airplanes he had serviced.

“I sat down one day and made a list with all these different airplanes that I’ve worked on … and [the students] said, ‘Your list is huge, we’ve never even heard of most of this stuff,’” Thomas said, laughing.

Thomas is a licensed aircraft maintenance technician and the owner of Performance Air Group, a fixed-base operator that offers airplane repairs at the H.A. Clark Memorial Field airport. He transitioned the business from Chandler to Williams after his family decided to move to the cooler climate, and officially opened the shop in October.

Performance Air Group offers aircraft repairs and annual inspections on personal and charter company aircrafts. Thomas can provide oil changes, tire changes, part replacements or whatever service is needed to restore an aircraft to good working order.

His typical customers are pilots with personal airplanes. Many of his past customers from Chandler are planning to fly in to Williams for services, and he works on planes from all over the state, including a few at the Williams airport. While his customers typically fly in, Thomas is often willing to go to them if their planes are unable to fly.

“He had people that were really heartbroken that he closed the shop [in Chandler] down,” said Valerie. “They respected him, and they really thought there was nobody else that could work on their plane other than him. When they found out that he was considering opening up the shop [in Williams], you could just see how thrilled they were, and they said, ‘We don’t care what it takes, we’re bringing our planes up to you.’”

Thomas attributes this customer loyalty to fair labor rates and diligent service that prevents customers from having to bring their airplanes back repeatedly for the same service.

His extensive experience also allows him to service older airplanes, such Cessna models that were discontinued in the ‘80s.

“The problem is the mechanics nowadays who know how to work on those airplanes have all retired for the most part,” Thomas said. “And now you’re getting these new guys that don’t have any experience working on those types of airplanes.”

Thomas, who’s been a pilot for over 20 years, credits his expertise in airplane repairs to the education he received from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. This education, he said, gave him hands-on experience and exposed him to a myriad of different planes.

“He’s a natural anyway. That’s what he was born to do, is to be an airplane mechanic,” said Thomas’s wife, Valerie. “And Chad going to school [at Embry Riddle] is such a huge benefit.”

Currently Thomas is the sole employee of Performance Air Group, but he plans to hire employees in the near future as the business gets off the ground. In the next few years he would also like to hire someone with a background in helicopter maintenance in order to add helicopter repairs to the shop’s repertoire.

Thomas is also working on a contract with the city of Williams to act as the airport maintenance coordinator at H.A. Clark Memorial Field. In this position he would notify the city of any maintenance or changes that need to be implemented at the airfield, such as fixes to the perimeter fence.

Performance Air Group is also working with the Federal Aviation Administration to become a certified part 145 repair station with a class three radio designation, which would primarily allow the shop to perform altimeter and transponder system checks.

Within the next five years Thomas also hopes to begin selling jet fuel at the airport in conjunction with the city’s self-service avgas station.

Story and photo gallery:

Muskegon County Airport offers cheap flights to Chicago for limited time

MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A flight from Muskegon to Chicago will only cost you $69, for a limited time. 

United Airlines, air carrier for Muskegon County Airport, is offering one-way flights from Muskegon to Chicago O'Hare Airport for $69, now through Nov. 23 for flights Nov. 30-March 8. Tickets from Chicago to Muskegon will be the same price.

Tickets must be purchased from at least 21 days in advance.  

A flight from Muskegon to Chicago O'Hare costs about $180 for dates leading up to Nov. 23.

"The airport continually receives requests for additional flights," said Jeffrey Tripp, Muskegon County Airport manager.  "United Airlines will gauge our level of success during this promotional period and the final results will have an impact on future flight decisions by United." 

Tripp said there have been many requests for an early morning flight from Muskegon to Chicago, and success of this sale could give the airport additional leverage to add it. 

"The ultimate goal is to increase the number of customers choosing to use United Airlines service from Muskegon for their air travel needs," he said. "We are constantly told by customers of the need for an early morning departure." 

United Express, of United Airlines, offers daily round trip flights to Chicago O'Hare on 50-seat regional jet aircraft operated by SkyWest Airlines. Flights are available in the late-morning and evening Sunday-Friday, and in the evening on Saturdays.  

The changing airline industry puts pressure on community airports, Tripp said. Changes include airline consolidation, fewer flights, fewer available aircrafts and flight crews, and the potential reduction or loss of service. 

"While Muskegon is not in danger of losing service in the near future, it is our goal to significantly increase our passenger numbers to a level that will allow Muskegon to operate without the need for the current subsidies," Tripp said. 

Muskegon County Airport is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Essential Air Service program. 

Story and comments:

Dozens of students take flight over Louisville and find a passion for aviation

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  (WDRB) -- Sparking an interest in aviation. That’s what happened at Bowman Field on Saturday morning as dozens of young fliers took to the sky to see if becoming a pilot is in their future.

“Keep going, keep going. Alright pull back for me nice and easy, we’re in the air,” said Ben Stivers, a flight instructor for Louisville Aviation as he directed one participant.

The day was an introduction into aviation and a passion that could turn into something more.

“I am going flying, yup,” Kyle Sokol exclaimed.

“I'm really excited for this. I think it's going to be really fun,” Colin Roark echoed.

“We, in some point of our lives are going to be flying so this is something ahead to be prepared in what you're going to do in the future,” Damian Fuentes said.

The Young Eagles Program put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association took about 40, 8 to 17-year-olds flying in a small plane, most of them for the first time in their lives.

“Most of the kids are a little scared. Especially on take-off, that's when it gets really loud for the first time,” Stivers said.

“I'm excited, nervous at the same time. It's just a whole new experience,” Sokol said.

“But most reactions are pretty positive, they really like it for the most part,” Stivers added.

He said it gets even better for them once they get up into the sky and actually get their hands on the controls and can see different landmarks.

“I want to see downtown and maybe the Ohio River,” Sokol said.

“I think it would be pretty cool to see my house,” Roark added.

“Side to side up and almost down, you could see everything,” David Conder said.

And some are so mesmerized, they’re speechless. But by the end of each 15 minute flight, they've become naturals.

“The usual response when they come back is a smile, a grin from ear to ear,” said Gary Graham, the EAA Young Eagle Coordinator for local chapter 110.

While the middle and high school students may have landed, they're still on cloud nine by the end of the day.

“It was unimaginable, it was great,” said Kevin Sokol. “I would love to be a pilot.”

Several pilots donated their time and planes to make the day possible, even paying for the fuel so that it wouldn't cost the kids a penny.

Story and video:

Flight risk: Commercial pilots in short supply

Sybil Phillips, Chief Pilot & Director of Aviation at Parkland College, steps out of a plane at Willard Airport Wednesday, October 12, 2016.

It's a standard college recruiting pitch — except in this case, the whole company could be at stake.

On a recent Thursday afternoon outside Willard Airport, 17 Parkland College aviation students listened to all of the reasons they ought to come fly for Trans States Airlines once they're licensed.

Regional carriers like it are tasked with handling flights that feed into major airport hubs, and all non-military rookie pilots must work at that level before joining a big-name commercial airline like Delta or Southwest.

Trans States representatives came to Champaign-Urbana to try to build brand loyalty before the job hunt starts for the 40 students in Parkland's program, 17 of whom showed up to hear the sales job.

It's just one strategy used in the face of a looming nationwide pilot shortage.

In February, CNN reported that a pilot shortage led to so many grounded flights for regional Republic Airways that it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection. According to Boeing and Oliver Wyman's Airline Economic Analysis, there will be a demand of 95,000 North American pilots from last year to 2034 — and just 64,000 pilots available to supply it.

For aviation students, this makes their prospects almost too good to be true — they can pick from guaranteed jobs if they can successfully qualify for and travel the expansive, but expensive, road of education and training.

However, that road is scarring the profession with damage that could take congressional action to reverse.

After Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash-landed in 2009 near Buffalo, killing all 49 people aboard and one on the ground, Congress raised the required number of training hours for commercial pilot certification — from 250 to 1,500.

That number shrinks to 1,000 after a prospective pilot obtains a four-year aviation degree, 1,250 with a two-year aviation degree and 750 for discharged military pilots. Those regulations vary for non-commercial organizations, such as charter airlines, which aren't required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations to adhere to the commercial airline rules.

If the shortage continues as expected, commercial outfits — the majority of which contract with regional airlines — will be slammed next. Sybil Phillips, the chief pilot and director of aviation at Parkland, doesn't shy away from saying the industry is going through "interesting times."

'A big stress for me'

Confronted with a burdensome budget shortfall, the University of Illinois closed its Institute of Aviation in 2013-14 and transferred operations over to Parkland.

Students at both Parkland and the UI can still participate in the program and earn a two-year associate aviation degree or pilot certification.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, the dropout rate for aviation students was around 50 percent, Phillips said. What worries her more, though, is the declining number of aviation professors.

Parkland could use two to four more, she said, but many candidates, in response to the shortage, are increasingly being courted by commercial airlines — even if all they can contribute are a few years of work before mandated retirement at 65.

"Locally, the shortage of flight instructors is a big stress for me," Phillips said with a solemn pause. "It's going to be very interesting to see how the shortage plays out in the next five to 10 years."

That stress is spilling over to Willard, home to seven daily flights from Envoy Air, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines. Six of those go to Chicago O'Hare, the other lands in Dallas.

During a Sept. 13 city council meeting, Willard's executive director received Champaign's public support to pursue adding a route to Charlotte. Gene Cossey said American Airlines needs to wait for its pilot numbers to stabilize before that can happen.

"The shortage is affecting us right now," Cossey said. "American is saying they're slim on pilots."

Landing a much-coveted Charlotte route also depends on how well Cossey and his staff communicate the area's need and demand for it. He said that involves meetings to drum up business and community support.

Overall, Cossey said he doesn't see bankruptcy in Envoy's future because of its relationship with American.

"One side (of flight shortage perceptions) is doom and gloom and the other is that it's a moderate problem," Cossey said. "The truth is that it's probably somewhere in the middle."

Experience argument

The 1,500-hours requirement is not without critics. The majority of aviation students and professionals contacted by The News-Gazette have unfavorable opinions of it.

The naysayers include Henry Fineberg, who graduated from Parkland's aviation program in May and is training to become a flight instructor.

"More experience is good but it might be a little overkill," Fineberg said, noting how he believes the requirement is contributing to the overall pilot shortage.

Count Daren Goembel, a captain at the Flightstar charter service in Savoy, among those who agree with the rule.

Flightstar requires that its captains have 1,200 hours of training.

"You've got to do something to mitigate that gap between being licensed and having experience," Goembel said. "It makes it more difficult but overall I don't think there's anything wrong for requiring more experience."

Flight training hours can accrue by providing lessons, hauling anything from cargo to corpses and flying banners, among other tasks. The time it takes to finish the hours creates a sizeable gap between graduation and launching a career.

Fran Tao, a UI senior majoring in psychology and political science, takes pilot certification classes at Parkland and is debating whether she wants to enter that pre-career gap.

"It's like two years of your life," Tao said of the commitment to finishing training hours.

Bill Giannetti, president and chief pilot at Flightstar, doesn't mince words when critiquing the requirement.

"It's unnecessary and it makes no sense," he said. "Hours have never been a good indicator of pilot skill. Military pilots are flying around in a jet fighter with 500 hours of experience. I believe the rule will be changed very shortly or else the airline industry will dry up."

'Supply and demand'

While laying his career foundation in the 1990s, Flightstar captain Martin Birge was one of many pilots who worked two jobs.

He had to in order to get by — back then, rookie salaries ranged from the $20,000s all the way down to minimum wage.

"I waited tables at night and flew six to seven days a week for six hours each day to build my initial flight time," Birge said.

Those wages are now starting to double in response to the shortage. Phillips predicts that will ultimately be what solves the problem, although it could also be what drives up ticket prices.

"I wouldn't advocate that (wages) go down more," Phillips said. "It's simple supply and demand."

In addition, perks like signing bonuses, raises and retention pay are becoming more and more attractive.

"They're throwing money at the problem," said Scott Conrad, a captain for Trans States Airlines.

Aviation students can end up paying more for air time than they do for tuition. At Parkland, Phillips said it costs around $60,000 to receive a commercial pilot license without also majoring in aviation. That amount doesn't include the air time fees for finishing training hours after leaving Parkland.

For the 2016-17 school year, Parkland's aviation program charges $157, $370 or $529 per semester hour, depending on where the student lives.

Additional course fees range from $1,992 at the low end to $9,894 at the highest.

Parkland aviation student Tristan Polk said he is taking out multiple loans to make it all work. Airline-sponsored scholarships, from what he can tell, are starting to increase.

"(Aviation) is more of a lifestyle than a job," Polk said. "You have to live around it and the cost."

The gender gap

Another way to recruit more pilots? Ditch the image of aviation as a boys club.

According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, around 97 percent of all commercial pilots are male. Being a female exchange student from China, Tao said, "I want to prove that I can do anything I want — that gender is never an issue."

Community-building opportunities are springing out of the gender gap, including several groups and scholarships centered around advancing women in aviation.

Tao is a member of the Female Aviators Sticking Together group on Facebook.

"There's aviation memes, ratings news, flying fashion tips, pictures of babies in 'My Mom Flies' onesies. ... It's really supportive," she said.

Goembel says the industry gender gap is indisputable. He has seen it first-hand throughout his 10 years in the profession.

"Flat out, you have more white males in the industry than any other gender or race," Goembel said. "It will take a lot of time before that changes."

'A literal dream'

Unavoidable downsides to the job — the time away from home, the risks of air travel — can also drive potential pilots away, although some will have enough passion to push those aside.

"Flying is a literal dream," Fineberg said. "I know I couldn't let it go."

Both Birge and Goembel said they can manage their frequent time away from home because their families act as a strong support system.

With all the talk of aviation's disadvantages and the pilot shortage, Phillips wants her colleagues to remember how the increased demand for air travel factors in.

"I always think: Who's in the back of the plane?" Phillips said. "It's business people who are also gone from home multiple days of the week.

"We're in a society where people travel for work a lot more and we're on the go a lot more."