Ready for Takeoff: New Southwest Program Gives Prospective Pilots a Pathway to the Cockpit

The program seeks to fill Southwest Airlines' future needs—which are predicted to be growing—to fill pilot slots with qualified candidates.

Long known as an innovator in its industry, Southwest Airlines has launched a career program that will provide aspiring pilots future opportunities in the cockpits of the Dallas-based airline’s planes.

Called Destination 225°, Southwest said the program provides a runway to becoming “a competitively qualified candidate for future Southwest First Officer positions.”

“This comprehensive training program is designed to make becoming a Southwest first officer an attainable goal for passionate, highly-skilled individuals,” Alan Kasher, vice president of flight operations at Southwest, said in a statement. “Pilots in the Destination 225° pathways will receive training customized to Southwest from our partners and will be held to the competitive hiring requirements for future first officer positions.”

Kasher also said the airline is looking for participants who “demonstrate the technical aptitude to excel in all aspects of their training and development as a future Southwest Pilot.”

The program’s name comes from a compass direction—225° is the southwest directional heading. Southwest, which is the world’s largest low-cost carrier, said the future demand for qualified professional pilots is expected to rise.

So, with Destination 225°, it hopes to meet high-potential aviators at their current experience level and provide a way for them to become highly skilled and qualified for future opportunities.

Southwest plans to join with industry partners to provide participants with training and flight experience to reinforce what it calls “The Southwest Way” of flying while candidates complete their journey to become a professional pilot. Partners include: CAE, Bell Murray Aviation, U.S. Aviation, Jet Linx, XOJET Aviation, iAero Group’s Swift Air, Arizona State University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, University of Nebraska Omaha, and the University of Oklahoma.

Individuals who apply, interview, and are selected for the program will have a Southwest mentor during their years of training, will be invited to training activities and events, and, ultimately, have the opportunity to apply to become a first officer with Southwest.

Southwest has four pathways for possible pilots

Participants will undergo comprehensive training and a continuous evaluation process aimed at helping them meet, or exceed, Southwest’s competitive hiring qualifications. 

There is no cost to apply to the program; however, candidates advancing through a training program and the selection process will be responsible for all costs incurred.

Southwest said the program has four possible pathways: 

  • The Cadet Pathway is a “from the beginning” program that provides individuals with a multiyear training program in partnership with CAE. The classroom and flight training will take place at CAE’s Phoenix training facility in order to have candidates qualified and prepared to apply for positions with planned program partners.
  • The University Pathway is intended for collegiate aviators who attend a Southwest Partner University or complete a Southwest Campus Reach Internship. The airline is working to partner with four universities to offer the transition training.
  • The Military Pathway is aimed at bridging the gap for active military pilots who do not yet meet the minimums to start a career as an airline pilot. Southwest will offer this transition training through a planned partnership with Bell Murray Aviation.
  • The Destination 225° Employee Pathway is for employees pursuing a career as a professional pilot. It’s part of a planned partnership with CAE and US Aviation Academy.

“We are fortunate to attract top candidates to fill our Pilot positions at Southwest but recognize that for many, the barriers to entering this career field can be prohibitive,” said Julie Weber, vice president and chief people officer. “Our purpose is to connect people to what’s important in their lives.”

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