By Kevin Hogencamp
Imagine knowing the day you step foot on your college campus that the path to your chosen career is already determined.
If you play by the rules and get your studies done, you get a guaranteed job with a regional airline and, down the road, a guaranteed interview with a major airline.
That’s precisely what’s on the table for Jacksonville University aviation students in a new collaboration with JetBlue Airways and its regional airline partner, Cape Air. Within eight years of entering college – after completing a paid internship, obtaining a degree, working as a flight instructor, and getting hands-on flying experience with Cape Air – JU students participating in the JetBlue University Gateway Program will be fully qualified to interview for a training slot as a JetBlue first officer.
“We know that at Jacksonville University, you are in one of the best flight programs in the country, so we know you will have the knowledge base and you’ll get the flight experience flight experience along the way,” Krista Poppe, the Gateway program manager, told a group of JU flight students in announcing the program to them recently.
Gateway includes a regimented and specific set of requirements for participating flight students. Graduates from Gateway spend about seven weeks in different training and initiation sessions before working on the flight decks of the JetBlue’s planes.
“You’re going to have the skills and training needed to become a successful JetBlue pilot. We know you’ll be ready. Essentially, it’s your job to lose,” said Poppe, a captain and pilot recruiter for Cape Air.
Capt. Paul Hocking, JetBlue’s assistant chief pilot, encouraged the JU flight students to share the news about the Gateway program with their parents.
“Your parents will know that the money they are spending on you to attend college is going directly toward getting you a job,” he said. “This is a way for them to justify the money they are spending.”
Dr. Juan Merkt, director of JU’s Davis Aviation Center in the Davis College of Business, said that JU is fortunate to be affiliated with a career path program that is designed to identify, mentor and recruit talented students to ultimately join JetBlue as professional pilots. The program showcases top students to the airline industry and also helps JU’s marketing opportunities to prospective JU students, he said.
“We are obviously thrilled that JetBlue has selected JU as their next partner in this unique program,” he said.
JU is JetBlue’s and Cape Air’s third partner since Gateway began in 2007; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of North Dakota are the others. Jet Blue is based in New York; Cape Air is based in Massachusetts.
JetBlue and Cape Air conduct interviews and information sessions annually on each of its Gateway campuses. In their presentation to the JU students, Hocking and Poppe explained that Gateway benefits all the participating parties in various ways, including assuring that Cape Air and JetBlue get the some of the participating universities’ top graduates. Also, the program helps the airlines track their prospective pilots and establish longstanding relationships with them.
“It’s also an opportunity along the way for the students to learn about the business of aviation while getting an understanding of the companies’ values,” Hocking said.
Poppe said the Gateway program was developed during a pilot shortage and that providing a steady stream of quality pilots to the airlines remains critical because another shortage is looming. Between 2010 and 2025, he said, 86,000 new pilots will be needed, partly due to the airline industry’s expansion into additional worldwide markets, including in Asia, South America and the Middle East, she said.
Hocking said JetBlue, the sixth-largest airline in the United States, expects to add 892 pilots over the next five years.
“The cool thing about it is you guys are getting into the business at the right time,” Hocking said.