Michael Pfeiffer has wanted to be a professional pilot since the day he flew from Atlanta to Tampa to visit his great-grandparents as a six-year-old. David Hoebelheinrich has his sights set on flying professionally, but also in a management capacity.
Thanks to a new program offered by jetBlue Airways through the Auburn University Aviation Program, the Auburn College of Business students they can achieve their dreams much more quickly than before.
It’s called the University Gateway Program – a pathway that gives professional flight students the opportunity to land a job at a major airline early in their careers. Whereas before, students would toil through flight training programs and regional carriers for 12 to 15 years, the Gateway Program provides the chance for a young pilot to work for jetBlue in half that time.
“The great things is this cuts the time by a significant amount of time that it would take a senior from Auburn to get to a major (airline) carrier,” said Pfeiffer, a senior from Marietta, Ga., who said his ultimate career goal was to fly for an airline and is majoring in Professional Flight Management. “It (the program) funnels you quickly. It would take 12 or more years if you were not part of a program like this.”
Hoebelheinrich, from Minneapolis, considers the program to be “a great path to a major airline.”
“It’s crucial for us,” said Hoebelheinrich, a part-time student certified flight instructor who is pursuing a degree in Aviation Management, said he wants to eventually move into flight operations management. “New (federal) legislation changed the (flight) regulations and raised our minimum hours of required flight from 250 (commercial flight) to 1,500 (airline transport). That’s 600 percent.”
Auburn, whose flight lab facility is located at the Auburn University Regional Airport and has a fleet of 15 planes, is one of only four universities involved in the program. The others are Jacksonville University (Fla.), the University of North Dakota, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Dale Watson, Director of Aviation Education at Auburn, which is part of the College of Business’ Aviation and Supply Chain Management Department, said jetBlue “approached the top flight schools in the country.”
“This is purely a result of our reputation,” Watson said. “Of course we were more than happy to work with them.”
How does the program work?
Students can be accepted into the program as early as their sophomore year in college. They must complete flight training and an internship as they pursue their Aviation Management or Professional Flight Management degree. Post-college, young pilots would continue to log hours working with regional aviation partner Cape Air, where Watson said “pilots go after Auburn to build experience to meet hiring minimums. It’s the best of both worlds.”
At Cape Air, which uses mostly charter planes, pilots could log more than 2,000 flying hours in 30 months. After eight years, including college, the pilot will have already logged as much as 4,000 hours.
“At Cape Air, you build time and relationships with that company,” Hoebelheinrich said.
Through this program, student-interns learn the business of aviation while solving operational problems, gain valuable time in the air as flight instructors, learn decision-making and piloting skills as captains at Cape Air, and have assurance they can one day work for a major airline carrier.
Watson said the airline industry will soon be in need of more pilots. Programs such as the Gateway initiative help create that path.
Watson said 10 Auburn University College of Business aviation students earned interviews with jetBlue as a result of the recent Aviation Management and Supply Chain Operations Industry Week at Lowder Hall, where representatives from 33 firms visited the campus and interacted with students.
Since its inception in 2007, the Gateway Program has already seen 61 students complete internships at Cape Air and jetBlue. The program’s first two pilots were hired by jetBlue last year.