National airline pilot shortage draws local pilots into the field

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Tea, S.D. - The airline industry has faced a pilot shortage for years, but now, that shortage is reaching a crisis. That shortage is affecting airports both big and small. It’s just one reason why new pilots said they're getting into the industry.

“I caught the aviation bug when we moved under the approach pass for a runway,” Private Pilot, Will Drzycimski said.

The University of North Dakota predicts the airline industry could be short 14,000 pilots by 2026.

“All of the captains in the airlines are retiring all at the same time and there’s an increased demand for air travel. So a combination of the two,” Tea’s Legacy Aviation chief flight instructor and owner, Mark Isackson said.

The Regional Airline Association said a rule introduced in 2013 increased qualification requirements and drove up training costs, adding to the pilot shortage. Some say a turn-around is taking off.

“We're seeing it in the flight school right now with increased enrolments from students who want to become airline pilots,” Isackson said.

Those young fliers see a bright future on the horizon.

“People don’t really realize how good of a job opportunity there is here. I sure didn’t for the longest time,” Drzycimski said.

“There’s a lot of airlines that are recruiting young people to become pilots, because there is so much of a shortage,” Isackson said.

Frequent flyers said there are a lot of things to love about being that high up.

“Looking down on everyone else. Just seeing the world from a different perspective,” Drzycimski said.

“Just being up in the air. The freedom,” Isackson said.

Many are hoping this increase of pilots will help ease the strain on the airline industry. Sioux Falls Regional Airport said the pilot shortage has resulted in a double digit drop in the number of flights available to larger cities.