Texas Southern University breaks ground on flight academy facility as demand for pilots rises

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023
TSU to break ground on flight academy at Ellington Airport
Is the future of flight here? Texas Southern University takes a big step toward training future pilots and it hopes addressing a critical shortage.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Southern University broke ground Tuesday on a new facility it hopes will ultimately help alleviate a critical pilot shortage.

The college is building a flight academy at Ellington Airport. Construction won't start until May 2024, and it's expected to be completed the following year, in May 2025.

The two-acre facility will feature a 22,000 square foot aircraft hanger, plus training and classroom space, and a 12,000 gallon above-ground aviation fuel tank. It'll sit on a portion of land accessible to an existing taxi-lane connection.

The project is moving forward after City Council approved an agreement between the Houston Airport System and TSU earlier this year. The council is allowing Houston Airports to use $5.5 million from its Airport Improvement Fund for the project.

TSU is the only university in the state that offers a four-year aviation degree. It's also the only historically black college and university, or HBCU, in the country that has flight simulation programs.

In July, the university became the second HBCU to have its aviation program professionally credited by American Accreditation Board International (AABI). It's one of the highest levels of recognition for an in-house aviation professional pilot program.

The accreditation will last until July 31, 2028.

And it's growing.

The school recently told our partners at the Houston Chronicle 156 students were enrolled this fall, with 73 of those wanting to become pilots. That's important because the need for pilots is expected to grow by 13% over the decade after the pandemic forced many to leave the business, leading to delays and cancellations.

Plus, fewer flights and smaller staff means higher prices and headaches for travelers.

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According to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, airlines need to hire 14,500 pilots a year through 2030.

"I think we're going to see the airlines really start to invest in our youth to fill that need," United Airlines pilot Corey Shepard told ABC13's Nick Natario in 2022.

"Now more than ever is the best time to start your training and make your way into the flight deck," added United Pilot Brian Brown.

United alone has a major hub in Houston at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The airline has said its on track to hire 10,000 pilots by 2030.

The BLS says the average salary for a pilot is in the six figures.

In fact, the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers was $211,790 in May 2022, BLS said.