SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – On Saturday, March 12, the new Utah-headquartered Breeze Airways opened a new training academy in Salt Lake City – just as many airlines are struggling with a pilot shortage.

People at the grand opening were able to enter a raffle, and a lucky few were able to pilot a flight simulator. Currently, the training academy has only one, but more simulators will arrive at the academy by the summer.

The opening comes as a pilot shortage has been a concern for airlines around the world for the past few years, which was heightened by the pandemic. That concern will only increase as the demand for air travel goes up. 

“There were about 7,000 pilots that early-retired in the country during COVID,” said David Neeleman, CEO of Breeze Airways.

Oliver Wyman projects a shortfall of as many as 12,000 pilots in 2023.

“Cost of training is a prohibitive barrier, there’s not a lot of visibility in schools so a lot of people don’t think that being a pilot is something that they could do,” said Breeze Airways Captain, Trish Henness. “In terms of COVID, the industry took a huge hit, so a lot of people with the uncertainty of the environment and furloughs probably walked away from training at that point.”

However, Henness says it’s creating new opportunities as well.

“With airlines starting up their own pathways programs into their airlines, having their own take on training and controlling aspects of the training like jet level training,” she said.

CEO David Neeleman hopes the Breeze Training Academy can help alleviate some of this issue.

“We’re working with flight schools, we’re helping people that want to become pilots. We can direct them to different flight schools that we have an association with.”

And some of those pilots that retired could be joining the Breeze Airways crew.

“We’re also attracting a lot of pilots that are early-retired from the big airlines that want to come and fly for us. Really, putting these experienced early-retired pilots with our new pilots is just a great combination,” Neeleman said. “…We’re contacting them, saying this is a great job. We have a special incentive program for them.”

Many airlines have been feeling the pressure from the pilot shortage, like Utah-based SkyWest airlines. In a statement, SkyWest says: 

As a result of an ongoing pilot staffing imbalance across the industry, SkyWest expects to discontinue service in several markets beginning this summer. SkyWest has long been a supporter of the essential air service (EAS) program and the critical need it fills in our national transportation infrastructure. We appreciate our partnerships and the support of these communities, and we are committed to delivering a solid, reliable product to each of them through this transition. Our ground staff at these locations will be offered various options, including transfers within the company. Customers booked beyond the service date will be contacted to make alternate arrangements. 

We are eager to work with officials toward solutions that would enable us to reconnect these communities to the national air transportation system in the future, and we are committed to remaining flexible and adjusting our plans if the situation improves more quickly than currently expected.

Another issue that airlines are facing is inflation. Travel booking app Hopper says that domestic airfare could increase 7% through June. 

Breeze Airways has also worked to alleviate the shortage by increasing pay for pilots in January of this year and hiring pilots from Australia under a work visa program.