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LOCAL AVIATION SPOTLIGHT: Tackling the pilot shortage, one pilot at a time

(Asheville, N.C.)  During the summer of 2020, western North Carolina local Tim McBride found himself in a life-changing situation. His personal training business in Hendersonville struggled during the pandemic and he had to make the difficult decision to close its doors. But with a resilient mindset, McBride looked forward to the future and the possibilities it held. Conversations with friends working at Delta Air Lines led him down a path that he had never expected: he would pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot. And a unique part of his story is that it is a local one, filled with perseverance, generosity of others and support from a vibrant local aviation education network.           

It is estimated that the industry is facing a deficit of about 8,000 pilots, or 11% of its total workforce. This shortage could reach 30,000 pilots by 2025. Our country relies on aviation not only as a form of transportation, but as an essential part of the economy, with the commercial aviation industry contributing approximately 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). So, as McBride discovered, now is a great time to choose to become a pilot.

However, the path to becoming a commercial airline pilot is not an easy one: there is a huge time commitment and a considerable financial investment. As McBride began to research and plan how to achieve his goal of becoming a pilot, he knew that it would require determination and sacrifice.          

What he didn’t realize is that western North Carolina has an amazing, interconnected educational system that supports the aviation industry and aspiring pilots. The region has extensive resources for students, including a local college aviation program at A-B Tech, a flight school located at Asheville Regional Airport called WNC Aviation (that partners with A-B Tech), and local grants for aviation students through both the college and the Western North Carolina Pilots Association Educational Foundation.         

McBride was happy to discover that WNC is a very supportive community for aspiring aviators. He connected with the Western North Carolina Pilot’s Association (WNCPA), and the WNCPA Educational Foundation (WNCPAEF), which provides economic assistance in the form of grants to aviation students and has granted $116,000 to date since its start in 2012. 

“There is such a tight knit community that makes aviators and non-aviators feel more than welcome,” said McBride. “Thanks to the Pilots Association and the Educational Foundation and their generous donations, pilots like myself get to fulfill their dreams of becoming commercial airline pilots. Earlier this year I was fortunate to be the first recipient of the Mal Beckham Jr. Memorial Grant, which has helped tremendously with paying for my commercial training at WNC Aviation.” The grant is named in memory of long-time local pilot and aviation enthusiast, Malachy Beckham Jr. The Foundation’s grant funds are raised from generous donations from individuals and the community – including from Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), the region’s largest aviation organization.          

AVL strives to support aviation education locally and dedicated this year’s Runway 5K to raise money for the WNCPAEF and the A-B Tech Aviation Fund. The sold-out event (held in October) raised approximately $19,000 for local aviation scholarships. “We believe that it is important to partner with our local aviation education organizations,” said Lew Bleiweis, President and CEO at AVL. “Aviation, in my humble opinion, is the best industry in the world, and western North Carolina is fortunate to have such a robust network to support careers in aviation.”

Skip Capone, President of the Western North Carolina Pilots Association Educational Foundation stated that "we, at the WNCPA Educational Foundation, are very proud of Tim and of all the highly motivated and qualified grant recipients we have been able to help over the years with the generous support of our Association members and from the community such as the Asheville Regional Airport, Signature Flight Support, and others. We hope to be able to expand the number and amount of grants each year to help serve the growing need for commercial pilots and to benefit the economy of western North Carolina."          

The WNCPAEF and Asheville Regional Airport are proud to be a part of McBride’s story and to partner with the other local aviation organizations to foster ongoing excitement and interest in aviation careers. And it’s fun to think that one day in the relatively near future when you take a commercial flight out of AVL, your pilot may be Tim McBride or another WNC resident who pursued a career as a pilot, and with the generosity and support of the local aviation community, was able to earn those wings. 

Learn more:

Asheville Regional Airport continues to be one of the fastest growing airports in the country, with frequent daily flights to 25 nonstop destinations, including major international hubs offered by six airlines: Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Sun Country and United. For more information, visit flyavl.com.

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RUNWAY 5K PHOTO

TIM MCBRIDE PHOTO