In January of 2020, the term “pilot shortage” was becoming a well-known buzzword to media outlets throughout the world. Student pilots were going through flight training and entering the airlines as a first officer in record time while flight schools did their best to retain instructor talent. To keep up with demand, major airlines created their own training facilities to help fill their pilot void and developed programs to incentivize experienced rotor wing pilots to transition to airline pilots.

A few short months later, “COVID-19” became the new buzzword with the onset of a global pandemic. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the market froze, flight schools closed, and the aviation industry entered a cyclical downturn. Remembering previous down cycles such as 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008, many were spurred on to ask, “Will the industry ever be the same?”

Leading Edge Flight Academy, of Bend, Oregon, suspended training operations on March 23rd of last year to honor the Governor’s executive orders. The school re-opened on May 11th under carefully devised operating protocols. As Safety Director Dan Bahlman remembers, “We worked closely with OSHA and in compliance with CDC guidance to develop an Infectious Disease Prevention Plan. The resulting protocols allowed us to mitigate risk and keep our students, staff and community safe.”

In a challenging year for the aviation industry, Leading Edge deems themselves fortunate to look back and consider the grand success of overcoming many obstacles while maintaining safe and effective operations.

“In 2020 we welcomed 161 new students and hired 29 new flight instructors. During the month of October we broke a company record for flight hours in a month. We also formed a new flow program for our fixed wing students with Alaska Seaplanes and formalized multiple industry partnerships in our helicopter career development program. The dedication and enthusiasm of our team has been very inspiring. We look forward to continuing the momentum moving forward as the initial hit of this global pandemic begins to move behind us.” – Courtney Massey, Director of Business Development, Leading Edge Flight Academy

Hope is on the horizon for the industry. In a late 2020 publication produced by Boeing, a forecasted 763,000 new pilots are predicted to be needed over the next 20 years. According to the report, “Aspiring aviators who begin their training today will be well positioned to take advantage of new job opportunities as the industry recovers.” Increased access to vaccines has boosted overall morale with hopes that air travel demand will recover as vaccine distribution becomes more widespread in coming months. Aviation cargo carriers have increased hiring efforts throughout the pandemic, creating a new sector of pilot job opportunities that was not previously available. Due to these positive movements, Leading Edge sees sustained interest in their aviation program and continues to develop new partnerships and programs to best serve their student pilots.

For over a decade Leading Edge Flight Academy (www.flybend.com) has specialized in training helicopter pilots, airplane pilots, and launching aviation careers. Leading Edge’s start-to-finish support and above industry standard training prepares students to meet their aviation goals. With a management team of pilots having over 37,000 cumulative hours and 100+ years in the industry Leading Edge knows what it takes to prepare students for a career in aviation. Their fully integrated operation is entirely focused on Student success. Located in Bend, Oregon with 300+ days of annual sunshine yields a productive and simultaneously challenging training environment to fully prepare students to achieve their aviation goals.