Horizon Air

Pilot Shortage Is Challenging But Creates New Opportunities

Horizon Air livery

Written by: By Brad Lambert, Horizon Air Vice President

The past five years have been some of the industry’s best. Flying has never been safer or more affordable, and customer satisfaction is on the rise.

Airlines across the industry are growing. Together, Alaska and Virgin America have added 118 new city pairs since 2010 – 34 in just the past two years. It’s a great time for Alaska Air Group, which includes the Pacific Northwest’s favorite regional airline – Horizon Air.  For pilots who want to enjoy the challenges of flying our route structure using the latest in avionics and technology, we offer a distinct alternative to flying in many other parts of the country.

This marks an exciting year for Horizon Air as we prepare for the addition of 33 new Embraer E175 jets, which it will fly exclusively for Alaska Airlines. With the first of the new three-class Embraer E175 jets scheduled to arrive in one month and another 30 options to come, our employees are thrilled for what the future holds for our36-year-old airline.

But parallel to the recent successes is a growing challenge. There may simply not be enough new pilots entering the pipeline to keep up with our growth and customer demand. Last summer, Boeing released its “2016 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook” study, and the numbers are forecasting a great demand for pilots. In the next 20 years, it predicts that 112,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed in North America.  Horizon Air believes we have positioned ourselves to meet this challenge.

Regional carriers like Horizon perform a critical role feeding pilots to major U.S. carriers. While we recognize this potential issue, it also is creating opportunities for new pilots entering the field. In fact, about a third of new Alaska pilots transfer from Horizon, and many of the Horizon pilots recruited today will have every opportunity to fly Boeing 737 jets some day in the future.

How did we get here?

The path to becoming a commercial airline pilot can be long and costly. The men and women who choose to become pilots do it because they live and breathe flying. I know, because I love it too, and have worked alongside these professionals since my first airline job in 1991.

For students, civilian flight training costs can be upwards of $100,000 – and that’s after paying tuition, room and board for a four-year university degree. Young pilots are incurring debt loads as undergraduates that you would typically only find after medical or law school.  This is a high hurdle to clear for both students and their parents.

Additionally, thousands of commercial airline pilots who came on-line during big hiring waves in the 1970s and 1980s are retiring as they approach the age of 65, the mandatory retirement age for U.S. pilots.

We are pleased to see the market beginning to react to the pilot shortage, as vastly improved starting salaries for regional pilots seem to be resulting in improved flight school enrollment.

So, what are we doing?

Horizon Air recently announced an initiative to invest in the education of future pilots. We’re actively recruiting at flight schools and aviation events and have partnered with Central Washington University and Hillsboro Aero Academy in Oregon, to assist students in obtaining their instructor licenses and guarantee an entry point with an interview at Horizon Air following the completion of flight school. We’re in negotiations with other schools to expand this program to other flight programs in the coming year.

In the next 20 years, Boeing predicts that 112,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed in North America.

On a positive note, the airline is continually evaluating starting salaries for new pilots, to ensure they are competitive and livable for students graduating with substantial debt loads. In addition, we are offering pre-employment bonuses for new hires in order to attract the pilots needed to address our anticipated growth with the introduction of the Embraer E175 aircraft.  Additionally, our Captains are among the highest paid in the industry, and we want to keep those who want to spend a career with us.

Photo by Horizon Air

And finally, we’re targeting future aviators before they ever step foot on a college campus, with the support of Raisbeck Aviation High School and events like Aviation Day. Our goal with this outreach is to show young people with an interest in aviation that however daunting the process may sound, there are pathways to fulfilling their dreams of becoming commercial airline pilots. One day, you might just see one of them welcome you aboard an Alaska Airlines flight.

Are you a pilot? Horizon is hiring. Apply now, at http://horizonair.jobs/pilots/.

Photo provided by Horizon Air

Fast Facts:

Headquarters:                           Portland. OR

Year Founded:                           1981

Number of employees:             3,661               

Number of Aircraft:                   52

Number of Passengers (yearly):  7.76 million

Number of Bases:                      6

Bases:                                        Anchorage, Boise, Medford, Portland, Seattle, Spokane

Number of Cities served:          45

Key Benefits: To be a great capacity purchase agreement (CPA) provider, offering service that is:

  • Safe
  • Reliable
  • Cost competitive
  • Caring, memorable
Alaska Airlines Refreshed Livery; Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines Newsroom.

Website – alaskaair.com

Phone – 1-800-ALASKAAIR

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/QXPilotRecruiting

Twitter – twitter.com/AlaskaAir

LinkedIn – linkedin.com/company-beta/19489/

Instagram – instagram.com/alaskaair/

YouTube –  youtube.com/user/AlaskaAirVids

Route Map – alaskaair.com/content/route-map.aspx


  • Brad Lambert
    • Vice President of Flight Operations for Horizon Air
  • Ali Donway
    • Managing Director, Chief Pilot

Interview with Ali Donway, Managing Director, Chief Pilot  

Pre Interview:

Craig: How do you select applicants to be brought in for an interview?

Ali: Horizon pilots are passionate about flying and the customer experience. When we look for pilots to join our team, we evaluate their online application, and resume, to ensure the candidate possess the requirements needed for this position.  Additionally, Horizon is people-focused, for employees and candidates, so we contact each application personally by phone to discuss their unique situation.

C: What can an applicant do to increase their chances of being called for an interview?

A: Applicants can increase their chances of being called for an interview by meeting, or exceeding, the R-ATP or ATP minimums for total flight time. Additionally, we like to see applicants have experience flying in a 135 environment. We know that every applicants situation is different, so even if they do not meet this experience-level, we’d love to talk with them to see how Horizon could be a good fit for them.

C: What is the best way to prepare for an interview with your company?

A: We look for aviation experts that will carry out our award-winning customer service.  This includes a personable demeanor and professional presence. Additionally, interviewees can prepare for their meeting with us by reading up on our company and showing up ready to showcase their passion for flying.


C: Do you recommend that applicants get to your headquarters city the day before and get a hotel room for the night?

A: Horizon Air will provide all Pilot interviewees with positive space travel and hotel room, as well as transportation to/from the hotel or airport. We want this experience to be an extension of our company culture.

C: Can you walk me through a typical day of interviews?

A: The interview process begins at 8am with a tour of our flight operations center in Portland, OR, including the hangar and ground training classrooms.  Each candidate will also meet with someone from our Chief Pilot office, Human Resources, and have an oral/technical interview. This is a great way for interviewees to see our operation in-person and ask questions about our company.

C: What kind of questions can an applicant expect to be asked?

A: Our goal is to get to know you.  We are always interested to know what attracts you to Horizon Air, what your longer term goals are (i.e. upgrade, guaranteed interview at Alaska Airlines, and choice of base) and why you love to fly.

Post Interview:

C: Do you tell applicants they are hired in person that day? 

A: At Horizon Air, we are committed to operational excellence, and that includes during the interview process.  Our goal is for successful candidates to walk away from the interview day with an offer in hand.  So, yes, in most cases we are extending offers on the same day.

C: How soon can an applicant expect a class date after being hired?

A: Once we extend an offer on the interview day, we discuss and assign a class date, so successfully candidates are walking away with the peace of mind knowing when training will start, this beginning their seniority.  We realize that pilots have families, friends and personal obligations and we will work with the applicant to ensure it meets their schedule, but aim to schedule the first available date.  There may be an occasion when a class assignment comes after the interview date, but that is not the norm.   For pilots needing the ATP-CTP class, we attempt to schedule that at the same time.


C: Can you explain the ATP-CTP class that your company offers?

A: At Horizon Air, we are focused on our people, and a large part of that includes the training and education opportunities that we offer. For pilots that need to take the ATP-CTP class, we will cover the cost of the course (currently offered in Florida and Nevada), hotel, and transportation to/from this course.

C: Do you have a hiring bonus? Is there any specific criterion to qualify for the bonus?

A: There has never been a better time to join Horizon Air. We are currently offering a pre-employment bonus of $10,000.  This is given as a lump sum, prior to training and is our way of saying “welcome to the team.”

C: Does Horizon Air have a Pilot Development Program?

A: Yes!  We currently have agreements established with several aviation programs throughout the country.  We offer between $7,500 – $10,000 stipend to help with the cost of flight training.  We interview and select future Horizon Air Pilots to be assigned training classes when they meet minimums.

C: Can you describe the career path program that Horizon Air has with Alaska Airlines?

A: Horizon Air provides the best way to the Pilot position at Alaska Airlines.  All Horizon Air Pilots are offered the opportunity to participate in the guaranteed interview program, which provides a guaranteed interview at Alaska Airlines.   As part of the program, Alaska Airlines commits to filling at least 30% of their classes with Horizon pilots.

SOURCEAero Crew News, March 2017
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Horizon Air is a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group, Inc. and flies to 39 cities across the United States and Canada as Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines flies 32 million customers a year to more than 110 cities with an average of 970 daily flights throughout the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and soon Cuba. With Alaska’s global airline partners, customers can earn and redeem miles to more than 800 destinations worldwide. Alaska Airlines is a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group. Learn more at Alaska.com


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