University of Illinois Closes Pilot Training Program

The University of Illinois has decided to close their aviation program, which includes their pilot training program. They cited declining enrollment in the program. In 2002, 176 freshmen applied compared to 34 in 2010. The closing is expected to save up to $75,000 annually. The program is slated to close in 2014, which will allow current students to obtain their degrees. The lack of enrolled students is somewhat of a mystery, considering the predicted world shortage of airline pilots. Some commentators have expressed the opinion that many U.S. students prefer to be doctors and lawyers.

Perhaps they are discouraged by the fact that in the U.S., 4,000 airline pilots have suffered layoffs. Still, sources state that U.S. airlines will need 40,000 new pilots by 2023. The major demand will be in Asia where the economies are booming, especially in China and India. The economy in China is expected to grow 10.5 percent in 2011, with the economy in India close behind at 9.4 percent. This new-found prosperity is creating a prosperous middle class that creates a burgeoning demand for air-passenger service.

A group that opposes closing of the school has established a website at The group blames some actions of the university for worsening the lack of enrollment. Barring a reversal of the decision of the board of trustees, the group’s efforts have failed.

Airlines in the middle-east are participating in the boom. Emirates Airline, the Middle-east’s largest airline, has ordered 200 planes. The airline is owned by the government of Dubai, of the United Arab Emirates. The airline has a world-wide presence with 2400 flights weekly to 111 cities and 62 countries. It is possible to fly non-stop from Dubai to San Francisco.

Due to the economic condition of U.S. airlines, their pilots do not receive compensation commensurate with the skill and experience required. Although U.S. pilots have taken severe pay cuts in recent years, the worldwide demand for pilots is beginning to increase competition for pilots. Emirates Airlines is offering a villa in come cases. In the light of these facts, it appears that the job prospects for U.S. pilots are very encouraging; especially if they are willing to relocate to a foreign country. Airline pilot is a very demanding job that requires the utmost in skill and dedication. The perfect example is Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who crash-landed the airliner in the frigid Hudson River without loss of life.


Sophia Tareen/”U of Illinois Votes to End Aviation Program”/Bloomberg Businessweek

Save the Institute of Aviation Website

Chan Sue Ling/”Pilots Needed for Cockpits as Asia Boom Creates Shortage”/Bloomberg

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