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Duluth’s aviation industry aims to address looming pilot shortage

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Brianne Kelley, 19, is a first-year flight student at Lake Superior College.

DULUTH, MN - Pursuing a career in the aviation industry was a no brainer for Brianna Kelley.

“I've always really enjoyed being on the move and being in new places, " Kelley said.

The 19-year-old is a first-year flight student at Lake Superior College. She recently reached a milestone in her path to becoming a commercial pilot by completing her first solo flight.

"Once I did the first round, taking off and landing, I knew I was going to do this the rest of my life," Kelley said. "There's nothing better."

Kelley is one of 60 students enrolled in the program aiming to help alleviate the looming pilot shortage.

"It's a good time to get into the aviation industry," Dan Traska, LSC Chief Flight Instructor, said.

Aircraft maker Boeing forecasts 800,000 new pilots are needed over the next 20 years.

"The program is about 225 hours. From zero to commercial, multi-engine rated flight instruction," Traska said.

From flight simulators to the real thing, Traska says most students who complete the program go directly to work for the airlines.

It's an industry where wages have improved significantly during the last decade.

"Entry level airline positions in 2012 would have been paying under $20,000 a year. Today we're looking at $60,000 to $80,000 for a starting wage."

Getting there is made easier with key partnerships in Duluth's aviation industry like neighboring AAR and Cirrus Aircraft.

"A segment of our customers are university and flight academies who purchase aircraft to incorporate them into their flight training fleet," Rob Haig, Executive Director of Flight Training and Operations, said.

From navigation to communication, Haig says Cirrus planes are a great platform for teaching.

"The technology that we have in this airplane makes the transition from this plane into ultimately the airplanes that career pilots will fly much easier," Haig said.

It's a transition that starts from the ground up.

"I pictured it as you're going into learn and fly and send you on your way. Not even close," Kelley said.

Kevin Jacobsen

News Director

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