Why Did United Airlines Fly A Brand New Boeing 737 MAX 8 To Oshkosh?

United Airlines flew a brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on Monday. The airline does not service Oshkosh, and to the nearby commercial airport it serves (Appleton), it flies in regional jets. This special flight, carrying yours truly, members of United’s team, and United’s partners in pilot training, arrived in Oshkosh at the EAA AirVenture show, where United highlighted its continued commitment to pilot training and working to highlight the various pathways to enter a career in the aviation industry.

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United Airlines flew a shiny new Boeing 737 MAX 8 to Oshkosh – here’s why. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

United’s hiring plans for pilots

At the end of June, United Airlines placed a blockbuster 270-aircraft order. Split between 200 Boeing 737 MAX jets and 70 Airbus A321neos, these planes are not all about retiring older aircraft, but also about increasing gauge and adding new flying, which means one thing: United Airlines is going to need more pilots.

In April, even before the order was finalized, United Airlines announced plans to train 5,000 new pilots by 2030. Through its Aviate Academy, United wants to train the next generation of pilots that also looks more like the next generation of America. As such, the carrier has committed to training people of color and women. It wants about half of its students at the United Aviate Academy to come from more diverse backgrounds with the help of scholarships and loans.

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Highlighting the strong commitment United Airlines has with the Aviate program, it has put a decal on its latest Boeing 737 MAX 8. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

These pilots will have undergone a rigorous amount of training and meeting strict regulatory criteria before being allowed to get in the cockpit of an airline. Depending on the amount of experience pilots have coming into the program, they will take different tracks.

The Aviate program will generally lead to people first flying for a United Express carrier before coming to United Airlines. Within five years of becoming a member of the Aviate program, the trainees can find a job at United Airlines, provided they meet the program benchmarks and strict regulatory agency criteria to be a commercial pilot. Safety will not be compromised.

Separately, United also plans to hire 5,000 additional pilots. This will bring its overall hiring push to encompass 10,000 pilots over the next ten years. This should help the airline keep its staffing levels appropriate for significant expansion.

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Investing in the next generation of pilots

Over in Oshkosh, United Airlines came to highlight the partnership with Aviate and expand its endeavors to coax more people to enter the aviation world. The airline is partnering with the EAA AeroEducate program designed to offer children from age eight to 17 an opportunity to learn digitally using this free resource more about the aviation industry and the potential for jobs.

United’s partnership in this sphere will also help it attract more pilots from outside traditional pipelines. Many people could benefit from a job as a pilot but do not have the industry connections or mentorship to fully realize that goal. United is working to combat that and provide even more opportunities for people to learn and seek to become pilots.

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There will be a pipeline for pilots to move from flying for a regional carrier to United Airlines. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

Curt Brunjes, Managing Director Aviate & Pilot Strategy at United Airlines, described the airline’s commitment to hiring pilots:

“What’s important to us with Aviate is that we create a pipeline that leads to the result that many people want in their aviation careers, which is to fly these airplanes and airplanes that are larger than these. We’re proud to acknowledge the fact that we have over 500 aircraft on order. We’re hiring more than 190 pilots per month, and that the youth that are walking around today and the youth that are looking for a way to get to United Airlines and the very, very rich and rewarding career that I have had, they have an avenue to do that through the programs that are being developed today and revealed today with AeroEducate.”

Why Did United Airlines Fly A Brand New Boeing 737 MAX 8 To Oshkosh?
Curt Brunjes speaking in Oshkosh on the Aviate program. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

The need for pilots

Before the crisis hit, the aviation world was working on ways to deal with a pilot shortage. Airlines needed pilots to replace those who faced mandatory retirement after age 65 and new pilots coming in to fly all the new aircraft arriving at various fleets. Multiple options were on the table in various jurisdictions. This included raising the mandatory retirement age to allow more pilots to stay on longer, though that would only be a short-term solution.

When the crisis hit, pilots suddenly faced the unthinkable: furloughs or layoffs. Airlines were rapidly retiring fleets, and some airlines were left with more pilots than they needed – which meant larger payroll expenses than they wanted to incur, even with the payroll support from the US government. Airlines turned to offering attractive, voluntary early-out options for pilots. Some, however, such as United, worked with their pilots to reach a deal for getting through the crisis.

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United has a large appetite for growth, and the Aviate program will help ensure it has the pilots it needs. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

Now, as the recovery continues in the United States, and a pathway out of the crisis is visible in other markets, the world faces the potential, again, for a pilot shortage crisis. United Airlines recognizes this, and it is investing in the next generation of pilots. Targeting youth, United is working to secure its position now from a staffing perspective and looking to safeguard itself in the future from any severe pilot shortage.

What do you make of United’s moves to shore up its pilot base? Let us know in the comments!

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