United Airlines launches program for MSU Denver students to become pilots

DENVER — As travelers and airlines deal with the impacts of aviation staffing shortages, companies are looking for ways to prepare for even more openings as current pilots head into retirement.

United Airlines and MSU Denver have teamed up to remove some of the barriers for aviation students and make sure there’s enough experienced candidates for the next generation of aviation.

“I’ve known since I was 4 years old that I wanted to wear this uniform and fly for United Airlines,” said United 737 Captain Monica Frain.

As students at MSU Denver will tell you, the love of aviation often runs in the family.

“My dad’s an airline pilot, he’s a pilot for United,” said Morgan Katnik, a senior in MSU’s aviation department.

He started flight training as a teenager, which he said requires a lot of work and a lot of time to do it on your own.

“There’s a checklist for becoming a private pilot, then you do your instrument rating, then commercial,” said Katnik.

The pathway to becoming a commercial airline pilot just became more streamlined with the launch of the United partnership with MSU Denver through the Aviate program.

“Once they’re in the Aviate program, they stay within our ecosystem of partners, (and) build their flight time. Once they reach 1,200 hours with one of our experienced field partners, like a Part 135 or one of our 121 UAX carriers, then they transition directly to United as a First Officer,” explained Frain.

To know that there’s a conditional job offer at the end of the program is a weight off of student’s shoulders.

“I don’t have to think about, ‘Will I have a job in two years? Three years? Five years? 10 years?’ I just really have to think about, ‘What do I have to do to get to my 1,400 hours of jet time,’” said Katnik.

It’s a forward thinking plan during a time where travelers and many airlines are feeling the impact of pilot shortages across the country.

“The pilot shortage has precipitated a reversal of doing: Paying for your own type rating — (that) went away — and [airlines] said ‘no, you don’t have to do that anymore.’ All these expenses and training started to the get taken over by the airline again, and their sole purpose is to look ahead,” said Kevin Kuhlmann, associate chair of Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at MSU Denver.

United said there’s also a strategy of working with younger aspiring students.

“By grasping on to this talent early, we’re actually able to develop them even more so that we have a more successful, talented pipeline coming in as pilots,” said Frain.

In fall of 2022, 674 students enrolled in MSU’s Aviation & Aerospace program. Of those students, 370 are studying to be a pilot.


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