Airline Career Pilot Programs
If your goal is to fly for the airlines, an Airline Career Pilot Program might be the way to go. If accepted, these programs are mostly designed to put you on a track from flight training, to time building, to a regional airline, and then a major airline. Rather than interviewing for each job along the way, once accepted into the program you’ll advance through each stage as you reach certain time and training requirements.
The airlines save money with a more manageable, long term hiring program, and you get the security of knowing you’re in line to a major airline career. Each program works a little different than the others so we’ve put together posts for United, AA and their regionals, and UPS. If more airlines start their own career progression programs we’ll add to the list.
Advertised as the most direct route to United, and the fastest track to a major airline. United plans to hire over 10,000 pilots in the next decade and this program looks like a great opportunity to be one of them. The sooner you join, the sooner you get to United.
When can I apply?
You can apply to the program at just about any point prior to actually getting a job with United, and as mentioned, the earlier you apply, the better. The catch is that you have to be at a United Aviate partner university, flight school, Part 135 carrier or United Express carrier to apply.
The program is broken down into three stages: Learning to Fly, Building Time toward your ATP, and Flying for a United Express carrier. The Learning to Fly stage can be completed at a partner university or flight school. The Time Building stage can be accomplished as a flight instructor at one of the partner universities/flight schools, or at a partner 135 carrier (Ameriflight, or Boutique Air). From there, you’ll fly at one of the United Express carriers (Air Wisconsin, Mesa, and CommutAir) until moving on to United.
We’ll take a look at the different partner programs and airlines, the requirements to apply at each stage, and the track you’ll follow to United.
Partner Universities Track
- Embry Riddle
- Florida Tech
- Western Michigan
- University of North Dakota
Application Requirements: 2 full-time semesters of coursework, an FAA approved aviation major resulting in R-ATP eligibility, 3.0 cumulative GPA, private pilot certificate, and stay out of trouble
Track: Once accepted, you’ll complete your degree, and begin instructing with the university, building toward your R-ATP minimums (1,000 hours). Once eligible for the R-ATP, you’re eligible to transition to a United Express partner, where you’ll spend a minimum of 24 months and 2,000 hours of flight time before being eligible to transition to United. When a First Officer position opens with United and you’re at the top of the priority list, you’ll receive a job offer. The sooner you join, the higher your priority to get to United.
Important: As you continue reading, you’ll come across an 18 month / 750 hour commitment to whatever company you’re time building with. We didn’t forget to mention that commitment here. Participants attending, or who graduated from, a participating university with an FAA-approved aviation major and enter Aviate as a CFI are exempt from the 18-month and 750-hour requirement!
Benefits: Reduced R-ATP requirements, and no time commitment to the flight school, like you’ll see in the tracks below. Remember, seniority is everything in the airlines. If these universities are appealing to you, this looks like your best / fastest option to United.
Partner Flight Schools Track
- Flight Safety
- Hillsboro Aero Academy
- Lufthansa Aviation Training
- US Aviation Academy
Application Requirements: Pursuing a commercial certificate, CFI, CFII or MEI, be in good standing with the flight school, and have a high school diploma / GED (although a bachelor’s degree is preferred).
Track: Very similar to the university track, but with a couple stipulations. Once your flight training is complete, you can flight instruct at one of the partner programs, or fly as a Part 135 pilot at one of the partner carriers (shown below) to build time toward your ATP. Generally, students will instruct at the school they attended, but wherever you end up working, a minimum commitment of 18 months and 750 flight hours is required. Once that commitment has been satisfied, and you’ve reached your R-ATP minimums (1,500 hours in this case), you’re eligible to transition to a United Express Carrier. A minimum of 24 months and 2,000 flight hours with the Express carrier and you’re eligible to transition to United! When a First Officer position opens with United and you’re at the top of the priority list, you’ll receive a job offer. The sooner you join, the higher your priority to get to United.
Partner 135 Carriers Track
- Boutique Air
Application Requirements: High school diploma / GED, although a bachelor’s degree is preferred for the program
Track: Already flying for Ameriflight or Boutique Air? Start the application through airline apps, go through the interview process, and get on track to United! In this case, you’ll commit to a minimum of 18 months and 750 flight hours with the company. Once the time commitment has been met and you have the R-ATP hours (1,500), you’re eligible for the transition to a United Express Carrier. Just like the other tracks, a minimum of 24 months and 2,000 flight hours with the Express carrier, and you’re eligible to transition to United! And, of course, when a First Officer position opens with United and you’re at the top of the priority list, you’ll receive a job offer. The sooner you join, the higher your priority to get to United.
United Express Carriers Track
- Air Wisconsin
- Mesa Airlines
Application Requirements: You just have to be flying for one of the partner airlines.
Track: Apply through airline apps, get through the interview process and then wait your turn to get to you United. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. The same 24 month / 2,000 flight hour commitment mentioned above applies, but you’ll be credited the months and time you’ve already accomplished at the airline. You must still serve a minimum of six months with the partner airline – the wording of that sentence on the website is a little confusing. I’m assuming it means they’ll credit you for your time at the company, but you’ll have to commit to a minimum of 6 months with the company after being accepted into the Aviate program. If I learn otherwise I’ll update the information. Just like the other tracks, when a First Officer position opens with United and you’re at the top of the priority list, you’ll receive a job offer. Again, the sooner you join, the higher your priority to get to United.
- You can apply at any point in the process, but the sooner you apply and are in the system, the sooner you’ll get to United
- The University track appears to be the fastest with reduced R-ATP minimums, and no flight school time commitment
- To apply you have to be in the United family of universities, flight schools, Part 135 operators, or express carriers
- The bottom line: United is trying to get ahead of the pilot shortage and if United is where you’d like to end up, this looks like a great program for you and them. A program like this is a always great option to have in your back pocket!
Benefits and More
- Travel Privileges: Aviate participants enjoy travel privileges to hundreds of United destinations
- Coaching: Aviate participants are paired with United pilots, creating a structured format for critical leadership and career development
- Aviate pilot leadership program: Aviate participants are equipped to become future United Captains through leadership, business acumen and decision-making skills development
- Development events and programs: Aviate participants are provided a breadth of resources to learn and grow throughout Aviate
- United leadership interaction: Aviate participants are key to United’s future and have opportunities to meet senior leadership and United Captains
- Site tours: Aviate participants have opportunities to visit and tour United’s advanced and complex operational facilities
Applying to United Aviate
Let’s Sum it Up
Are these great programs? Absolutely. Are they the fastest programs? Probably, but not necessarily. If you can set yourself apart from your peers (military time, check airman, airline instructor, internship with the company, etc.) then it’s possible an interview can come before a program like this where you have to wait your turn in line. Does that mean you should avoid the program and look for ways to set yourself apart from the rest of crowd? No, I don’t think so. I think your best bet is to get in one of these programs and work to set yourself apart. That way, if for whatever reason the interview doesn’t come, or the interview doesn’t go well, you’ve still got the flow through job in your back pocket.
If you have experience with this program, we’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop some information in the comments and help out those trying to figure out their career plans!