JetBlue recently announced plans to develop an “ab-initio” training program for its Embraer SA E190 crews. The airline must get FAA approval for its plans, but if it does, it would become the only U.S. airline to recruit zero-time pilots. The program will start with about two dozen participants, said JetBlue spokesman Doug McGraw. The training will be designed to build “the complex skills required of airline pilots from the first day ... to ensure the quality of our current cadre of pilots is maintained,” he said. Under FAA rules, pilots must log 1,500 hours of flight time before serving as first officer for an airline.
Ab-initio programs (Latin for “from the beginning”) are a common hiring practice for airlines around the world, but rare in the U.S. McGraw told Bloomberg the company launched the effort to gain access to a broader pool of pilot candidates, oversee their training from the start, and expose them earlier to being part of a crew. The airline plans to launch the program on a trial basis next year, pending FAA approval. “The program is designed to accommodate prospective trainees with little-to-no aviation experience, but who pass a rigorous selection process,” McGraw said. Unlike similar programs abroad, however, applicants in the program would pay for their own training. JetBlue would make a commitment to hire those who complete all requirements.
Training will be simulator-intensive, according to Bloomberg, and also will include academic classes taken at JetBlue. Recruits then will move to a partner training provider to log their 1,500 hours. The first graduates would join the airline as first officers in 2020. Jim Bigham, chairman of ALPA, told Bloomberg it’s not a great idea. “We’re opposed to it,” Bigham said. “We think there are thousands of pilots available that have higher qualifications right now than any pilot coming out of an ab-initio program.” ALPA represents JetBlue pilots.