United Airlines plans $100 million expansion of pilot training center during hiring spree

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A United Airlines passenger aircraft prepares to leave its gate and taxi to the runway at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California.
Robert Alexander | Getty Images

United Airlines plans to break ground Wednesday on an expansion of its training center in Denver, an initiative aimed at getting thousands of pilots ready to fly passengers as the carrier goes on a hiring spree.

The project will cost about $100 million. The new four-story building at its training campus will allow United to add six new flight simulators. The airline plans to add an additional six simulators later on, although the location is yet to be determined. It currently has space for 40 simulators.

The new simulators will be to train pilots on the Boeing 737 Max and Airbus jetliners, after a massive order last year, as well as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Marc Champion, managing director of the flight training center, told CNBC.

The carrier expects the project to be completed before the end of next year. Champion said the training center expansion project has been in the works for about a year.

Like other carriers, United is facing intense competition for pilots as the industry recovers from the Covid pandemic. The airline is planning to hire about 10,000 pilots between now and the end of the decade, Champion said. The Chicago-based carrier expects to add about 2,000 pilots this year.

Last year, United started teaching the first students at its new flight school, the United Aviate Academy, in Goodyear, Arizona. It aims to train 5,000 pilots there by 2030.

Fleet changes and idled pilots during the pandemic created massive training backlogs across airlines as many aviators switched to new aircraft or waited for slots to complete federally mandated recurrent training.

American Airlines, for example, last year decided to keep a pilot training center in Charlotte, North Carolina, open to handle the volume. United, however, maintained much of its fleet, and reached an agreement with its pilots’ union early in the pandemic that helped it keep many of its pilots trained.

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