"American Eagle Airlines created the Pilot Pipeline Program to ensure we have the quality and qualified pilots we need for future operations," said Nicolas Brice, director of pilot recruitment for the carrier. "This is an important initiative for our company that also helps program participants gain the experience they need to start careers as commercial airline pilots while easing the financial burden of doing so."
The partnership was announced Wednesday at Spartan's flight campus at Jones Riverside Airport.
American Eagle is the wholly owned regional carrier of American Airlines Group Inc.
Boeing Co. has estimated that North American airlines will need about 87,000 additional pilots in the next 20 years, not to mention the many pilots who are nearing the age limit of 65.
The route for students to become commercial passenger pilots has been under fire because of the high costs for training versus the low starting pay for regional pilots about $22,000 a year on average.
But mainline pilots, most of whom start at regionals, are often paid above $100,000 a year, even if it takes 10 to 15 years to reach that salary.
Regional airlines have been trying to soften the blow by offering recruiting bonuses and opening pathways for students to become pilots.
American Eagle has opened similar Pilot Pipeline Programs in Texas, Florida and Arizona in the last year.
"The more we can hire, the better," Brice said.
Students who complete an associate or bachelor's degree program are eligible for the program. Entrants also need to complete the necessary 1,500 hours of flight time to get an Airline Transport Pilot License, or students can get deferred entrance into the program while they complete their training.
Applicants also need a 2.5 grade-point average during their study, with a 3.0 GPA in aviation courses.
Students with a bachelor's degree in aviation can get a restricted Airline Transport Pilot License with 1,000 hours of flight time.
Students need to go through the application process with American Eagle to qualify for the $10,000 signing bonus. The process includes interviews as well as a simulator test.
Although American Eagle has started Pilot Pipeline Programs at other schools during the past year, so far it has seen only a trickle of new hires, Brice said. But he expects more hiring under the programs in coming years as they ramp up.
American Eagle has about 3,000 pilots flying on the company's 215 aircraft, but it will need more in coming years.
American Airlines' agreement with pilots and the regional carrier allows pilots from American Eagle to move up to the mainline carrier. American hires about 50 percent of its pilots from American Eagle.
Because mainline carriers pay more, regional airlines have the largest burden in hiring pilots.
Students who have graduated but haven't earned sufficient flight time can work as a certified flight instructor. Brice said the company can also send students to work as flight instructors at other pipeline schools to earn more flight hours.
"This alliance between Spartan College and American Eagle Airlines means a student with aspirations to serve as a pilot for a major airline is now a step closer to realizing his or her career goals," said Peter Harris, president and CEO of Spartan.
He said the pipeline program will be a major recruiting tool for the school and that he hopes to double the its size in the next year.
Spartan has about 70 students in its pilot training program, out of about 700 students overall. The school also trains students in aircraft maintenance fields and nondestructive testing.
Tuition at Spartan for an associate degree is about $66,000, and a three-year bachelor's program costs about an additional $25,000 a year. With books and other fees, the total cost for the three-year bachelor's program is about $104,000.
What is it?: A $10,000 bonus for Spartan College students who hire into American Eagle's program with a two-year job commitment.
First officer training program: Spartan students who graduate with an associate or bachelor's degree qualify to apply.
Deferred program: Students can get a deferred award while they accumulate mandated flight hours.
Other qualifications: An Airline Transport Pilot License, including 1,500 hours of flight training time. Some students qualify for a restricted license with fewer hours.