What used to be Wyoming’s most popular airline is combating a national pilot shortage in an unconventional way: hiring pilots who don’t know how to fly.
Frontier Airlines, which used to service many Wyoming communities and still has a small presence in Jackson, is dealing with the scarcity in pilots by creating a “farm system” where the airline trains people who want to be pilots from the ground-up.
“We really want to provide an opportunity for aspiring pilots,” Brad Lambert, vice president of Flight Operations for Frontier Airlines, told Denver’s 9 News. ”We also want to be able to control our destiny going forward.”
The airline will select 35 cadets each month to go through a two-year intensive program to teach them how to fly.
After they complete the process, have enough flying hours and an Airline Transport License, they’ll move on to operate the real thing.
“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,” Lambert said.
Frontier in Wyoming
It was once said if you wanted to talk to Wyoming’s congressional delegation, book a flight on Frontier Airlines over the weekend.
Before the airline went through a series of changes and all but abandoned the state, the airlines served numerous communities in Wyoming and members of Wyoming’s delegation like U.S. Sens. Craig Thomas, Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, Reps. Barbara Cubin and Cynthia Lummis could all be spotted flying the airline on nearly a weekly basis.
Coy Knobel, Enzi’s former chief of staff and Cowboy State Daily contributor, said Enzi flew back to Wyoming on Frontier nearly every week of the year.
“Usually it was only three to four times a year that he didn’t make it back on the weekend and it never tired him out,” Knobel said.
Knobel said he only flew to Wyoming a fraction of the time Enzi came back and that wiped him out.
But the senator had ways to minimize the jet lag. One was always keeping his watch on Wyoming time.
“His mind and heart were always in Wyoming,” Knobel said.
Cost of Program
The cost of Frontier’s training program is $90,000 but the airline said it’s offering some financial support.
Plus, in the first year on the job a pilot can expect to make more than $100,000.
“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.”
Even though Frontier Airlines doesn’t directly operate in Wyoming (outside of seasonal service in Jackson), it remains a popular choice for Cowboy State travelers out of Denver International Airport.