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Amid a nationwide pilot shortage, Frontier recruits cadets with no prior flying experience

"We're starting our own farm club," Frontier VP of Flight Operations said.

DENVER — Denver-based Frontier Airlines has come up with a creative way to attract new pilots amid a nationwide pilot shortage. The airline is targeting people who have no prior flying experience with its Flight Cadet Program.

Brad Lambert is the Vice President of Flight Operations for Frontier Airlines. He helped come up with the $8 million pilot recruitment strategy.

"We really want to provide an opportunity for aspiring pilots," Lambert said. "We also want to be able to control our destiny going forward." 

Thousands of flights are canceled or delayed because of "operational challenges" as more travelers take to the air at pre-pandemic levels. Some major airlines are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Applications for the program are open to anyone who wants to learn to fly, according to the airline. Every month, Frontier will select 35 cadets who will go through extensive training at an ATP Flight School.

RELATED: Frontier announces new Denver flight to Caribbean

They have a location in Centennial in the Denver metro. 

"We'll obviously pull in those applications and rank them according to what we are looking for and we'll put the applicants through a pretty aggressive vetting process, interviews, aptitude testing, things like that," said Lambert.

The cadets chosen will have to complete the two-year program, spend 15 hours in the sky, and earn an Airline Transport Pilot License.

"Our training program doesn't change, they have to meet all the requirements of our training program. They will be safe, proficient pilots by the time they will come to us," according to Lambert.

"We'll have a mentor program to keep an eye on them as they go through their training as they go through experience building, we'll make sure we stay in contact with them every month," said Lambert.

Once the cadets have enough flying hours and their Airline Transport License, the next stop is Frontier Airlines' main training facility in Aurora where they'll spend another 40 hours training in a flight simulator for commercial planes. 

"Our cadets will go through the initial training at ATP. They'll go build experience in the industry someplace, and by the time they get the experience to come over to Frontier, they'll be able to learn advanced jet simulation," Lambert said.

RELATED: Frontier announces new Denver flight to Florida

Frontier says the cadets will become First Officers, meaning they will be in the passenger seat in the cockpit of the airplane when they get started with the airline. Then after more hours of training, they can become the Flight Captain.

A First Officer in aviation is a commercial airline pilot who helps navigate and operate flights. They work in the cockpit with the Captain to assist them with the flight. They sit in the right seat and are the second in command (SIC), while the Captain sits in the left seat and is the pilot in command (PIC).

Frontier Airlines says its Flight Cadet Program is a way to avoid issues with pilot shortages years down the road. The company currently has more than 100 aircraft in operation today, but they have 230 airplanes on order which will triple the size of the airline.

"We will still hire off the street, and we'll still have other programs in place, but this program at the very least assures that we have the minimum number of crews we need going forward," said Lambert.

Frontier says since the application process opened this year, more than 500 people have applied, some of whom are Frontier employees working in other areas of operation within the company. 

The cost of the flight school is about $90,000, which is up to the cadets to pay. However, Frontier says they will offer stipends and some financial support before the cadets have a full-time job with the company. 

While the up-front cost could be expensive, Frontier says that the average first officer will earn around $100,0000 in their first year on the job.

"It's a pretty lucrative business. Lots of good benefits, a good retirement plan," said Lambert. "It's almost like a journeyman process where you spend three or four years learning your trade before moving over to the left seat. So they will be first officers for several years, before moving over to the Captain's seat." 



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