In this article, we’ll cover the basics of the SkyWest Pilot Pathway Program to help you decide if this program is right for you.
Most professional pilots will work for a regional carrier at one point in their career. Whether you see this as an exciting opportunity to fly smaller aircraft on less-frequented routes or just a way to build your hours to get to the big guys depends greatly on the company you choose.
SkyWest is the country’s largest regional and works with four major airlines. As a pilot, few other regions offer the choices of bases, aircraft, and growth potential. SkyWest’s Pilot Pathway Program is designed to help you get in the right seat of one of their CRJ or ERJ aircraft as quickly as possible. Here’s a look at the program details.
About SkyWest Airlines
SkyWest is America’s largest regional airline, serving 250 US, Canadian, and Mexico cities. The company operates codesharing flights for several major airlines, including Alaska (as Alaska SkyWest), Delta (as Delta Connection), United (as United Express), and American (as American Eagle).
Most of the airline’s routes and networks are set up to connect smaller communities to the hubs of the major airlines they serve. Some of these flights are subsidized routes in the Essential Air Service program.
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SkyWest is based in St. George, Utah, and was begun in 1972. The company has seen numerous mergers and acquisitions throughout its operating history as other regionals fold and routes get absorbed. Most recently, SkyWest acquired ExpressJet in 2010.
However, ExpressJet was sold to another airline holding company in 2018.
As a result of the numerous agreements with multiple airlines, SkyWest has quite a few hubs. For Alaska Airlines, they operate out of Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. For American, they operate out of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. For United, they operate out of Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Finally, for Delta, they operate out of Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Seattle.
All of these hubs mean there are even more crew base options. SkyWest offers more flexibility for pilots researching a job at the regionals than any other. Besides the cities listed above, crew base options include Boise, Colorado Springs, Fresno, Palm Springs, San Diego, and Tucson.
SkyWest also has the largest fleet of any US regional, with over 500 aircraft. They operate the CRJ regional jet fleet (CRJ200, CRJ700, and CRJ900) along with a number of Embraer 175s.
The carrier is subject to scope clause requirements set by the major carriers–their flights should be on aircraft with a limited number of seats.
SkyWest also offers their pilots leading pay among regional airlines with first officers starting at $90 per hour. You can learn more about SkyWest pilot pay in our article.
SkyWest Pilot Pathway Program
With such a large operation, SkyWest is an appealing regional to work for. Unlike many regionals owned by holding companies or their mainline partners, SkyWest maintains its own pilot pathway program.
How can such a program compete against the major airlines? When you look at it, your move to the regional airlines is one of the first big career choices you will make on your way to the majors. Picking the right company means the difference between loving your job and “putting in the time” to move on. SkyWest is uniquely set up to help pilots by providing more choices.
To sweeten the pot, the SkyWest program has a few perks that others do not.
Firstly, seniority benefits start as soon as you are a cadet. Seniority is everything in airline jobs–the more seniority you have, the better your choices for training slots, domiciles, and routes. The company is open about this benefit, and you can even check the current seniority numbers for crew bases and aircraft on their pathway program website.
For the recruit, seniority numbers give you a peak into how long you’d have to work to get the domicile or upgrade that you want.
The company is also committed to mentoring students from the beginning. For example, while working with one of their partner flight training facilities, you will get an introduction to the airline and meet first officers who will be your mentors. They’ll help guide you along your training path and prepare you for your interviews.
At the completion of your program as a cadet, you’ll be guaranteed a final interview for a first officer position, so long as the company is hiring.
The pathway program also offers tuition reimbursements with elite partners, up to $17,500. Requirements are different at each partner, but tuition reimbursements are based on hourly time building after being hired as a CFI, paid in full upon successful completion of SkyWest’s Initial Operator Experience (IOE) training after being hired as a first officer.
Check with each provider to find out how reimbursements work.
While the pathway program is not affiliated with a major carrier, SkyWest pilots upgrade to the majors just like any other regional. According to SkyWest Careers, 36% go to Delta, 19% to Southwest, 11% to Alaska, and 9% to United.
But other carriers are hiring too, and since the program isn’t affiliated, these experienced pilots are free to go where they choose. Other airlines that have hired SkyWest pilots include FedEx, Spirit, UPS, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Frontier, and American.
Steps in the SkyWest Pathway Program
A cadet’s precise process will vary depending on where they complete training. However, most are divided into three phases: student training, instructor time building, and working at SkyWest. The whole process takes about two years, from zero time to first officer at SkyWest.
Phase one is the completion of all flight training requirements. Students at partner schools are eligible to become a cadet from day one.
Once a student has completed their ratings, phase two begins. All students are given an interview to become a CFI at the school. This means cadets can build their flight hours to meet the ATP requirements.
After getting the minimum ATP flight hours, cadets are guaranteed an interview to become a first officer with SkyWest. If they’re accepted, they will have the highest seniority in their class.
Getting Accepted to the SkyWest Pilot Pathway Program
To be accepted into the program, students will need to check entry requirements for both the partner training provider of their choice as well as the Pathway Program. Many partner programs are universities that will have different entry requirements than the flight training academies.
You can learn more about the Pilot Pathway Program on the SkyWest careers page. There, you can view a full like of partner schools and see their schedule of upcoming recruiting events.