SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Amid a dramatic pilot shortage in the United States, a brand new, local aviation program kicks off next week, with no seats left to spare.
According to CNN Money, a new commercial pilot will need to be trained every 15 minutes over the next 20 years to keep up with the current flight demand. The OTC program will train 24 students in its first class.
The dean of technical education at OTC, Matt Hudson, says the first class is primarily comprised of students from around the Ozarks.
“Before this program was available, people would’ve had to travel a few hours away in order to be able to access the same kind of training,” Hudson said. “So I think that has really given us an advantage to be able to not to have to relocate someone.”
Kickapoo graduate Sarah Tindell didn’t have to relocate at all, living in Springfield her whole life. She hasn’t always been ready to take flight.
“I used to be the most quiet, reserved, person, but being a pilot, it’s such an adventurous field, you kind of have to be outgoing,” Tindell said.
Tindell knows securing a spot in the new program was a hard task, with only 24 spots to fill, so she’s taking full advantage of it. Tindell is logging 50-plus hours in the air to work toward her private license before classes even start next week.
The program addresses the nation’s pilot shortage, suffering from an influx of pilot’s expected to retire soon.
“We’re now in a serious crisis if we don’t have the next group of folks to train,” Hudson said.
But being the first of her generation to pursue pilot school is no threat for Tindell.
“It’s something no one in my family’s ever done before,” she said.
In fact, fellow student Cole Vandersnick thinks one day he can recruit another student, by convincing his younger brother to join him in the cockpit.
“I’m hoping he might follow in my footsteps and we could be the pilot duo,” Vandersnick said. “The sky’s the limit.”
In two years, the first graduating class will have an associate’s degree and a commercial pilot’s license. Typically, pilots also need another license and a bachelor’s degree in order to carry passengers. Last week, OTC signed an agreement with Drury University so students can transfer seamlessly for two more years of education if they want.