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Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air Launch Ascend Pilot Academy

An Alaska 737-800 at Reagan National Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Craig Fischer)

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air — the Seattle-based carrier’s regional partner — have teamed up to launch their Ascend Pilot Academy (APA), aimed towards providing pilots with a simple, more affordable path to becoming commercial pilots. Participants in the program will eventually land themselves in the right seat at Horizon Air, with the opportunity to further advance to Alaska Airlines after specific requirements are met. 

The program ultimately aims to aid the company in the hiring of pilots amidst the ever-growing pilot shortage that currently plagues the industry.

The two airlines have partnered with the Hillsboro Aero Academy — a Pacific Northwest flight school — to train upwards of 250 cadet pilots per year. Pilots in the program will be eligible for a $25,000 stipend to help cover the cost of their commercial pilot license, including an opportunity for low-interest financial aid assistance. Along the way, cadets will have access to mentorship from existing Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air pilots.

Following the completion of ratings, and after receiving the required 1,500 flight hours, graduates will receive a conditional job offer at Horizon Air. Having reached the flight deck at Horizon, and looking to advance with Alaska, Ascend Pilot Academy graduates may apply for quarterly openings with the airline’s pathway program, which could lead to the standard interview process with the airline. 

“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,” Joe Sprague, said, Horizon Air president. “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.”

Ongoing Pilot Shortage

The pandemic played a large role in the industry-wide pilot shortage as it pushed many pilots into early retirement amongst major air carriers. As a result, airlines have turned to programs similarly designed like the Ascend Pilot Program to help tackle the growing problem. In 2022, it is projected that upwards of 10,000 pilots will be hired by mainline airlines, up 50 percent from 2019, prior to the pandemic. Alaska and Horizon combined will hire an estimated 500 pilots per year till 2025. 

“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,” Sprague added.

About Hillsboro Aero Academy

Prior to this program, Horizon Air and Hillsboro Aero Academy had already been established partners — helping students gain employment following the completion of their training. 

The Pacific Northwest flight school has two campuses, the main one located in Hillsboro, Ore. and the other in Redmond, Ore. Hillsboro’s campus operates a fleet of 95 aircraft equipped with modern avionics. 

Many Alaska and Horizon pilots started their careers flying, instructing or both at the Hillsboro campus. 

“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,” Nik Kresse, Hillsboro Aero Academy’s Vice President of airplane flight operations, said. “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.”

Ascend Pilot Academy not only benefits its cadet pilots by providing them with the tools and resources needed for success, but it also helps the carriers fill cockpit seats with pilots they know came from a trusted flight school.

Chase Hagl


  • Chase Hagl

    Chase Hagl grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. His love and passion for Aviation landed him in Orem, Utah where he obtained a B.S. in Aviation Management with a minor in Business Management from Utah Valley University. Chase currently works as a flight attendant in Charleston, SC and is also the primary Inflight ASAP ERC representative for startup airline, Breeze Airways. His experience in the aviation industry spans back four years, working in areas including agriculture application, customer service, maintenance, and flight ops. In his free time, Chase enjoys road biking, astronomy, and flying.

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