Academy College & Cape Air Create Pathway To The Airlines To Meet Growing Demand For Pilots

by Dave Weiman

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. – The only four-year accredited aviation college in the Twin Cities – Academy College – has signed an agreement with Cape Air of Hyannis, Massachusetts, to create a clear-cut “pathway” to a career with the airlines. Both Academy College and Cape Air have programs designed to help students reach their ultimate goal.

Executives from both Academy College and Cape Air met March 4, 2015 at the Academy College campus in Bloomington, Minn., to sign the official agreement spelling out each other’s roles and responsibilities. Academy College recruits students and provides the education, flight training and an opportunity to build flight time to qualify for an interview with Cape Air. Cape Air in turn guarantees all Academy College graduates a job interview and an opportunity to work towards their Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate.

The Pathway Agreement Signed

Representing Cape Air at the signing ceremonies were Captains Steve Phillips and John Peck, and the manager of flight dispatch, Shawn Fisher. As a form of introduction, I asked them if we were all pilots, and they responded in the affirmative, including Fisher, who once had aspirations of becoming a commercial pilot, but found his aviation career as a flight dispatcher.

Capt. Steve Phillips has been with Cape Air for 20 years, and has risen through the ranks as line pilot, chief pilot, and now director of operations. Phillips is type rated in each of the three aircraft flown by Cape Air: Cessna 402, Britten-Norman Islander, and ATR 42. Phillips and his wife own a 1946 Cessna 140 for recreational flying.

Capt. John Peck’s aviation career started out when he received his Navy wings in 1972. He flew F4 Phantoms extensively and was assigned to Naval Air Station-Patuxent River, Md., to test the catapult systems on aircraft carriers. Peck has had the rare privilege of landing on every aircraft carrier in the Navy, sometimes shooting as many as eight traps a day. From the Navy, Peck went to work for American Airlines flying 757s until he joined Cape Air as director of flight training and standards.

Academy College President Nancy Grazzini-Olson, and Aviation Director, Julie Falk, represented the college. Falk recently left Delta Air Lines and accepted her position with Academy College.

The Pilot Shortage Is Real

“The pilot shortage dilemma is real,” says Academy College officials, and it’s a worldwide problem.

From the top-down, U.S. mainline carriers will have to replace more than 18,000 pilots over the next 7 years, due to the mandatory age 65 retirement rule. Add to that, pilots will be needed to fly another 3,800 new jets, or an industry growth predicted by the FAA at 1.3%.

Lengthening the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 has helped some, but has only delayed the inevitable. Unless we train more commercial pilots, the pool will dry up.

Cape Air and Academy College are on the same page when it comes to making the pathway to an aviation career as seamless and relaxing as possible. Increasing federal regulations has not helped.

The FAA has raised the minimum requirements for first officers and captains under Part 121 air carrier operations, and has made it mandatory to be ATP certificated. NextGen poses a whole new set of issues, mostly having to do with increased costs.

About Academy College

Academy College can compete with the major aviation universities by providing two and four-year degree programs. Students who are from the Twin Cities appreciate Academy College’s close proximity, and the fact that their tuition stays in their home state of Minnesota. Academy College is located at 1600 West 82nd Street in Bloomington.

Academy College has the largest collegiate commercial pilot flight training program in the Twin Cities, an impressive aviation business program, and the only FAA-approved aircraft dispatch training program in Minnesota.

Academy College offers a Bachelor of Science Degree in Commercial Aviation, has FAA authority to certify its commercial pilot graduates for reduced aeronautical knowledge for the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, and an Associate of Aviation Science (AAS) Degree program.

All flight training is completed at Academy’s affiliate flight school, Thunderbird Aviation, with locations at Flying Cloud Airport (KFCM) and Minneapolis Crystal Airport (KMIC). Flight training is provided using Cessna and Piper aircraft and flight simulators. Testing for each pilot certificate and rating is done at Academy College. Nancy Grazzini-Olson is president and CEO of both Academy College and Thunderbird Aviation.

Academy College graduates can fly charter and fire watch patrols through a contract between Thunderbird Aviation and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, providing there are openings. They can also build time as a certified flight instructor at Thunderbird Aviation.

Once students have acquired their instrument rating, 3.0 GPA, and two professor recommendations, they are guaranteed an interview with Cape Air.

New Cape Air pilots are given flight duties to help them build time and to meet the qualifications for their ATP Certificate.

Cape Air is both a Part 121 and Part 135 airline. (Part 121 includes all scheduled air carriers. Part 135 includes commuter air carriers and on-demand operations).

Flying For Cape Air

The pathway to the airlines is well known… Get a college education and flight training to meet minimum requirements for the regionals, then move up the ranks to the majors. But more and more, Cape Air has become the final destination for many pilots. The benefits are comparable, and the flying is unique.

Most flights are 30 minutes to an hour in duration, and VFR flying is encouraged. An instrument flight plan is optional, but generally not needed. Flight following and air traffic control services are utilized frequently, and Cape Air flight dispatchers are available anywhere in the world.

The Cessna 402s and Islanders are flown single pilot, and the pilot is responsible for flight planning, customer service, and loading and unloading the aircraft. The ATRs are flown with two pilots and a flight attendant.

Pilot Dan Wolf of Harwich, Massachusetts, founded Cape Air in 1989 with one route, Boston to Provincetown, eight employees and a yearly passenger total of 8,000. Since then the airline has provided year-round service to some of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

Realizing the need to serve more communities, Cape Air soon expanded its service across southern New England to Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard and Providence, Rhode Island. In 1993, the airline began offering flights between South Florida and the Florida Keys, and in 1998, the airline’s Caribbean route took flight. Finally, in 2004, Cape Air began service in Micronesia and added two ATR 42s to its fleet. These aircraft seat 46 passengers and serve Cape Air’s routes between Guam, Rota and Saipan.

Today, Cape Air operates a fleet of over 80 Cessna 402s, four Britten-Norman Islanders and two ATR 42s, with up to 550 flights per day during high season. In 2014, Cape Air carried more than 735,000 passengers, making it one of the largest independent regional airlines in the United States. The airline is an employee-owned company with a workforce of 1000, and its chairman of the board, Capt. Wolf, remains current.

For additional information on Academy College and opportunities with Cape Air, call 952-851-0066 (

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