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  • Joe Breitfeller

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air Launch Ascend Pilot Academy

Alaska Airlines and their regional partner Horizon Air have teamed up with Hillsboro Aero Academy to launch the Ascend Pilot Academy. The new program for aspiring pilots will provide a simpler and more financially accessible path to becoming a commercial pilot.


Horizon Air Embraer E175 Captain Emma Bryson. Emma and her Husband, E175 Captain Ian Bryson, Both Previously Worked as Hillsboro Flight Instructors - Courtesy Alaska Airlines

Today (March 9, 2022), Alaska Airlines announced that along with their regional partner Horizon Air, they have teamed up with Hillsboro Aero Academy, a premier Pacific Northwest flight school, to launch the Ascend Pilot Academy (APA). The new program for aspiring pilots will provide a more simple and financially accessible path to becoming a commercial pilot at Horizon and eventually Alaska. The two carriers will register up to 250 students annually, and once enrolled, cadet pilots will be eligible for low-interest financial aid and a $25,000 stipend to cover the cost of a commercial pilot license. Students will also receive mentorship and guidance from Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air pilots, as well as a conditional job offer at Horizon, with an opportunity to join Alaska after meeting certain criteria.


In Wednesday’s announcment, Horizon Air’s President, Joe Sprague, said,


“Launching the Ascend Pilot Academy addresses a critical need to build a larger and more diverse talent pipeline and remove historical barriers to entry for aspiring pilots. Our goal is to create a program that enables students to complete an intensive training and time-building program, with a clear and established path toward flying for Horizon as a first officer. We're taking a number of steps to actively recruit pilots at both Alaska and Horizon, including enhancing our existing Pilot Development Program and launching a robust marketing recruiting campaign.

Combined, Alaska and Horizon estimate the need to hire 500 pilots per year or 2,000 by 2025, and the Ascend Pilot Academy will be one part of building the talent pipeline. Currently, one of the barriers to entry for aspiring pilots is the estimated cost of $70,000 to $90,000 for training, schooling and licenses to become a commercially rated pilot. In response, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air have been advocating for expanded federal student loan aid to cover costs associated with flight education.


Commenting on an expansion of federal student loans, Mr. Sprague added,


“It should be as easy to get a federally backed, low-interest student loan to become a pilot as it is to attend medical school. The Ascend Pilot Academy aims to do just that.”


Hillsboro Aero Academy is a long-time Horizon Air partner and operates campuses in Hillsboro and Bend, Oregon. The school’s fleet of 95 aircraft are equipped with modern avionics and their staff is working directly with Horizon Air’s team to develop instructional practices to best prepare students to fly in the commercial airline environment.

Also commenting on the launch of the Ascend Pilot Academy, Hillsboro Aero Academy’s Vice President of Airplane Flight Operations, Nik Kresse, said,


“Through this program, an aspiring commercial pilot will be able to realize their dream of learning to fly, and work toward becoming a captain at Alaska Airlines. Enrolling in Ascend Pilot Academy is the first step of what we hope will be a long relationship with Horizon Air and Alaska Airlines. We're eager to work with students through their entire journey and provide world-class training and dedicated pilot mentorship along the way.”


Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air offer pilots a highly competitive compensation and benefits package and a supportive work environment with growth opportunities. Team members receive travel privileges across Alaska Airlines’ extensive flight network that includes 120 destinations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize, as well as the ability to fly ‘space-available’ on any of the 13 oneworld global alliance member airlines. Interested students can learn more about Ascend Pilot Academy and/or enroll by clicking here.


Alaska’s sister airline Horizon Air flies to over 50 cities across the U.S. and Canada,, and operates a fleet of 30 Embraer E175s and 32 Bombardier Q400s (now DHC Dash 8-400s). The airline has over 800 active line pilots operating from bases in Anchorage (Alaska), Boise (Idaho), Medford and Portland (Oregon), as well as Everett, Seattle and Spokane (Washington).



Source: Alaska Airlines