As a kid growing up in Southlake, Ryan Tate watched American Airlines jets fly over his house as they prepared to land at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Now the former military pilot is ready to hop into the cockpit and fly those jets himself as he starts his career at American.
“We knew we were moving back, and American Airlines is to Texas like Dr Pepper is to Texas,” said Tate, who was stationed at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi before moving his family to Grapevine. “If we’re moving home, there is only one airline to fly for, and that’s American.”
Tate, 30, is one of thousands of new hires at the Fort Worth-based company, which has been in expansion mode since its 2013 merger with US Airways. In the first eight months of 2015, American has hired more than 8,700 workers systemwide, including both new jobs and open positions.
That figure surpasses the 7,273 employees American hired last year, when it increased its workforce by 3.3 percent to 113,300. The carrier has about 25,000 workers in North Texas, having added about 1,500 locally last year. And more are on the way.
More than 1,400 new reservation agents were brought on to help customers as American and US Airways prepare to merge their passenger reservation systems in October. Almost 1,900 new fleet service workers have been hired at airports, including 450 at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport who were needed this year when American rebanked the flight schedule at its largest hub.
Fort Worth resident Nathan Sidwell, 33, walked into American’s training center on his first day not knowing what kind of plane he was going to fly or what city he would be based in.
Sidwell, who flew C-130s for the Marine Corps at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, met an American Airlines pilot at a kid’s birthday party a few years ago who suggested he think about flying for the airline.
“He said, ‘We’re going through bankruptcy right now, but in a couple of years when you get out, give us a call,’” Sidwell said.
When his time in the Marines was up, he started the application process with American.
Within a few minutes of the start of class for pilot hires, Sidwell and about a dozen other pilots learned that they would be based at either New York LaGuardia or Miami and would fly Boeing 737s or Airbus narrow-body aircraft.
Sidwell was one of two “off-the-street” hires to start at American this month. The others in the class were pilots who had flown for American’s regional subsidiaries Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines.
“Half of a new-hire class on average is going to be comprised of the flow-through pilots, and those guys and girls have been flying for the regional carriers for anywhere from 15 to 25 years,” said Jim Thomas, managing director of flight training and standards. “They have an enormous amount of experience.”
Thomas said the company is averaging about 50 new pilots per month, with plans to hire close to 500 this year. And with hundreds of pilots at American reaching mandatory retirement age, the company is constantly training pilots on new aircraft types.
“Every retirement, for example, requires about six to seven additional training spots,” Thomas said.
On the first day of training, pilots learn about American’s history and share why they want to work for the airline.
Tate, the former military pilot who grew up in Southlake, told the group that he had heard from family friends who worked for American that the company was changing and now was a good time to start his commercial flying career.
“When you think about where the company is headed and seeing all the new orders for the airplanes, just the thought of having that new-cockpit smell … I’m excited,” Tate said.