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Ready to soar? Aviation Festival hoping to attract much-needed pilots

WOODS CROSS — Sunny skies this weekend will be perfect for the Skypark Airport Aviation Festival in Bountiful. Organizers hope it will attract lots of families to see the airplanes, but with demand growing for airline pilots, industry officials aim to use the event to lure future fliers.

“There’s a unique opportunity for pilots right now,” said Matthew Schroeder, a captain for SkyWest Airlines who hopes to do some recruiting.

That's because demand for pilots has spiked lately. According to a report issued by the Regional Airline Association, the major airlines will need to replace 18,000 pilots within the next few years as they reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.

The report also notes a drop in new air transport pilot licenses, the highest certification given by the Federal Aviation Administration, which certifies pilots to fly commercial freight and passenger planes.

Over the next 20 years, Boeing estimates North America will need 112,000 new pilots.

“That demand is not going to go away. Those pilots are still going to be retiring at their mandatory age of 65, so there's still going to be those opportunities,” Schroeder said.

The opportunities start in smaller planes like the ones at the festival.

“Aviation is something everybody can do,” said Jason Clark, a flight instructor for Bountiful Flight. “We have $25 introductory flights today.”

Bountiful Flight is one of several programs that have teamed up with SkyWest. Southern Utah University, Westminster College, Cornerstone Aviation Flight Schools and ATP Flight School are some of the schools across Utah that are part of the SkyWest Pilot Pathway Program.

“You'll be a flight instructor, have a seniority number at SkyWest Airlines and as soon as you have your hours, you're on,” Clark said.

They start out in small planes like a Czech Sport. Clark hopes safety features like a full-airplane parachute attract people.

“We actually pick it up, bring it back, repack the parachute, and it'll be flying on our flight line again,” Clark said.

As the crowds come to Bountiful for the festival Saturday, Schroeder and Clark hope to see them consider a career in the cockpit.

“It is simply the best job in the world. There's no doubt about it,” Schroeder said.

The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Skypark Airport at 1887 S. 1800 West in Woods Cross. There will be aircraft manufacturers, universities, colleges, flight schools, aircraft manufacturers, food trucks, vendors activities and more. There will be skydivers at noon jumping into the airport, and SkyWest will be holding a career fair.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc