Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pensacola flight school, American Airlines target area pilots

An American Airlines regional jet service is recruiting former military helicopter pilots to fly its commercial planes and teaming with a Pensacola flight school to provide the training.

Dayton, Ohio-based PSA Airlines and Pensacola's SkyWarrior Inc. celebrated the agreement in an announcement at Pensacola International Airport early Wednesday.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward joined PSA executives for a brief ride, taxiing along the airport tarmac in one of PSA's CJR 200 jets.

"This is a total win for our former military pilots and for our city," Hayward said after congratulating the owners of the family owned flight school, which is at the airport.

The airline will pay as much as $23,000 to help each of the 15 helicopter pilots the school hopes to train every month, said Greg Sigler, vice president of SkyWarrior Inc.

"The goal is to get them to where they can legally fly for the airlines. We will instruct them to the point where they can then enter the airline's first-officer program," he said.

Among the first group of students to go through the program is retired Marine Maj. John Marshall, who flew heavy transport helicopters in the military. Marshall, who left the Marines earlier this month, said the program is an opportunity for him to continuing flying while learning something new.

"The good thing for those of us who learned to fly through the Navy and Marines is that we actually learned to fly fixed-wing aircraft first," said Marshall, who earned his flight wings at Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Milton in 1999.

The SkyWarrior training was a refresher course in the skills he learned back in primary flight school, he said.

Nicklas Fortin, an Army National Guard medivac helicopter pilot who deployed to Iraq twice, also hopes to fly for PSA.

Fortin said he wouldn't have had the $23,000 to invest in the fixed-wing flight training.

"It's an opportunity for a career change and a good thing for my family," he said.

PSA Airlines, which flies under the American Airlines name, made the investment in the Pensacola school because of the area's large pool of former military pilots, said Brooks Butler, chief pilot and pilot recruiter for PSA.

Commercial airlines are battling a pilot shortage with experienced pilots retiring and flight-time qualifications for new pilots getting tougher, he said.

"Our decision to come to Pensacola was very strategic. Through all of our research, we know that military pilots are well-trained, disciplined and have the skills we need," he said.

Pilots who complete the Pensacola program will go on to the airline's training at its Dayton headquarters.

According to PSA's website, the 2,500-employee airline has 150 jets and has flight crews based in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, Knoxville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina. The airlines' fleet includes Bombardier CJR 200, 700 and 900 jets.

For more information about the training program and SkyWarrior, visit and


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