Pilot shortage soaring due to cost, commitment

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DECATUR, Ill. (WAND) — Like many 16-year-olds, Coalton Camden tries to calm his mother's worries.

In the past year, Jennifer Camden has seen her son get behind the wheel of a car — and behind the controls of an airplane.

"He's pretty confident in what he does," she said. "He puts in a lot of time and effort."

But teens like Coalton are becoming harder to find. Airlines large and small are already facing a major pilot shortage. With fewer trainees in the pipeline, the situation won't be getting better soon.

"I'm working more hours [and] flying a lot more," said GoJet captain Austin Seevers, a Mount Zion native himself. "We are seeing airplanes being parked due to the fact there's no one to fly them."

The issue is two-fold. A prospective pilot needs to have 40 hours to dedicate to in-flight instruction. But then the biggest hurdle is cost. Between renting planes, fuel and licensing fees, a prospective pilot could end up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole — before seeing a single paycheck.

"You've got to pay your dues too," said flight instructor George Coulthard. "The first few jobs you'll get aren't going to pay real well."

But smaller airlines are now lining up the perks from signing bonuses to higher pay.

For Coalton, it's not about the money. It's about watching a dream...soar.

"It's just the freedom you have whenever you're up there," he said. "You look out and you never realize quite how big the world is until you're up in the air."

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