Delta removes a big barrier to getting hired there as a pilot

Jan 10, 2022

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Becoming a Delta Air Lines pilot just got easier for many aspiring applicants.

The Atlanta-based carrier this month removed a requirement that its pilot candidates have a four-year college degree. That’s now “preferred.”

With the change, Delta becomes the last major U.S. airline to drop the college degree requirement. Only FedEx continues to require a four-year degree for its pilot applicants, a TPG analysis of job requirements found.

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“After a comprehensive review of our pilot hiring requirements, Delta will now prefer a four-year colleague degree for first officer candidates — rather than require — effective Jan. 1, 2022,” Delta said in a statement. “Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to those seeking a pilot career at Delta, especially those that have gained an equivalency through other operational and leadership experience.”

Delta’s decision to drop this requirement comes as airlines face a shortage of pilots that’s expected to accelerate in the coming years, though Delta noted it’s not currently having difficulties filling its new-hire classes.

“I think Delta is smart to make this decision because it increases their ability to compete for pilots at a time when we are facing a shortage of pilots in this country,” Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, said in an interview with TPG. “Just like they must compete for passengers, airlines know that they must also compete for pilots.”

Delta A321 Takeoff Atlanta Fly Delta Jets
Despite the industry facing a pilot shortage, Delta noted that it is not currently having issues filling its new-hire classes. (Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

Training to be a pilot is an expensive endeavor that is often comparable in cost to a four-year college education. The cost of flight training to prepare someone for the airlines usually falls somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000.

“What makes a good pilot is her or his flying skills,” Harteveldt said. “Not their knowledge of Socrates or creative writing.”

Once that initial training is done, pilots must accrue the necessary hours to get the rating that unlocks airline jobs, a process known as “building time.” Pilots usually have about 250 hours when the initial training is completed. To get hired by a regional airline, usually a first step toward employment at Delta or any other major “mainline” carrier, 1,500 hours are required. To get from 250 to 1,500 hours requires often low-paying jobs as a flight instructor, flying small aircraft charters or aerial survey work.

More: How a pilot shortage could leave travelers with higher fares and fewer options

While there are several four-year universities with pilot training programs that legally reduce 500 hours from the 1,500-hour requirement, many pilots decide that they’d rather postpone or completely forego their studies and instead train and build time full-time after they graduate from high school.

“For a lot of people who want to be pilots it’s an either-or decision,” Harteveldt said. “Either they go to college to get a four-year degree or they pursue their passion to become a pilot.”

Delta’s move has been well-received in the aspiring pilot community. Its Facebook post announcing the change has been liked or loved over 1,000 times. Many comments noted that Delta’s move now opens the door for qualified candidates who otherwise couldn’t afford a college education.

Featured photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock.

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