Delta Drops Degree Requirement For Pilots


Delta Air Lines has announced that it no longer requires potential new pilots to have a college degree. In a Facebook post, the company listed a host of reasons for the change, none of them mentioning the incipient personnel crisis facing all airlines. Instead it suggested requiring a degree was discriminatory against those who have attended the school of hard knocks. “While we feel as strongly as ever about the importance of education, there are highly qualified candidates—people who we would want to welcome to our Delta family—who have gained more than the equivalent of a college education through years of life and leadership experience,” the post said. “Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to our Delta flight decks.”

The airline does qualify the move somewhat, however, noting that a degree is preferred but no longer a deal breaker. “We’re excited about our future at Delta and we’re proud of the many things we are doing to make the dream of becoming a Delta pilot a reality for talented, hard-working and committed people who love this industry,” the post said.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. This is pretty funny to me because my Dad was hired by Delta in 46′ with only a high school diploma. He went on to fly everything they had, became Director of Flt. Training and oversaw the development of simulators to avoid training accidents that happened around those years. So yeah, the 4 year degree requirement is irrelevant to having a successful career in the cockpit. I followed and did 36 years at a major with only 2 years of college. Not once did the lack of a bachelor’s degree prevent me from landing successfully.

    • Are you absolutely sure, Tim? I’d bet you could have made smoother landings if only for that B.S. (sic). 🙂

      “Requiring a degree was discriminatory against those who have attended the school of hard knocks …” Now if we could just get the meatheads who run the USAF to realize that there are some mighty qualified enlisted people within their ranks who have proved their mettle and who — on their own — have earned advanced flying certificates, love flying and would make great pilots. Reinstituting the Warrant Officer ranks as a halfway method to FIRST allow them to become rated and then later finish a degree would be one way to do it. The cadet program — in use until the 60’s — would be another. Their pilot accession problem would be solved in a flash; the current crop of enlisted drone pilots is proof positive that my idea would work. Are ya listening, Gen. Brown … call me … let’s do lunch. I’d be glad to help.

      • I actually completely agree. I have a degree, but I’ve been saying for years that college is not for everyone, and unless your field has some specific training that is only taught in college/university, most jobs should drop the requirement and offer alternative paths.

    • In 1979, I served on the F-16 European Test & Evaluation team … taking four prototype F-16’s to four European coproducing Nations to test them in the NATO environment. In Bodo, Norway, I saw 19 and 20 year old ‘kids’ landing F-104’s in weather I had a hard time driving a vehicle in. None of them had degrees. And most members of the Norwegian AF were officers save for a limited number of conscripts. Their theory was that the trained maintainers are just as important as the pilots. And they don’t retire after 20 years … it’s a lifetime commitment. I agree. During the days of OUR draft, the Services had a ready supply of ‘bodies.’ The advent of the ‘all volunteer’ Services changed all that c. 1971. Now, with airlines clamoring for pilots, it’s going to be harder still for Services to RETAIN pilots for a full career.

      Another problem within our USAF is the notion that every rated pilot officer has to be groomed to potentially be a general. This process forces these folks to attend service schools and serve in non-flying billets along their career path which don’t enhance their flying skills and takes them out of the cockpit. Why couldn’t those who only want to fly and are medically qualified to remain pilots be limited in promotion to — say — O-5? Just leave ’em alone and let ’em fly.

      I just don’t “get” why those at the top of the Service’s aviation sections act like ostriches on this subject.

  2. Where was this spark of genius 60 years ago when I was knocking on the door, fully qualified but for that precious degree?

  3. ATC is a good example of no degree required, at least in the old days. Degree required now. Back when, the majority of the controllers were from a military ATC background, again no degree required. If you remember ATC of old, worked pretty good. Some military pilots were surprised to discover that the controllers telling them, officers, “where to go” were just a bunch of young enlisted guys…and gals eventually.

    • Roger, ATC only requires a degree if you are hired through the CTI program (Controller Training Initiative). One can be hired in a pool with CTI grads and Military Veterans (no degree required for vets), or in a second pool as a competitive “off the street” hire (no degree required).

  4. Im not going back to commercial flight school anyways, they can still suck it. Burn my damned logbooks while you are at it!!! Putting money into this stupid field to have it taken away, I’m still pissed about it!

    • I’m with you on that one. Got my 4 year degreed. Paid out of pocket for PVT, INST, COMM, CFI, CFII, MEI… Couldn’t get a job due to 9/11… By the time airlines were hiring again I would have needed to take a 50% pay cut to leave my full time job – only to get furloughed. At this point I know more people who have given up airline careers than who still have them. Although I regret never getting the opportunity – I’m probably better off for it.

  5. Good comment on Veterans. I got my ratings before being drafted in 1966. BECAUSE I had my CFI and instrument ratings, I ended up instructing in the Army flying club–it probably saved my life, as I was supposed to be a combat medic. Stayed on instructing for the Army flying club after separation–oddly enough, most of my flight instruction given was to RATED ARMY AVIATORS looking for advanced ratings.

    Looking at an airline career–went to the local University and enrolled. Pretty hard to put up with the “counter-culture” prevalent at the time–coming from students AND the faculty. Not conducive to learning–no relevant courses–but “No degree–no Delta Airlines!” Like many coming out of the military and looking for an airline career, we found it difficult to go back to the “theoretical–with no practical experience” of college life. I dropped out and went corporate. This is my 60th year of flying–30,000 hours, 6 jet type ratings, fly gliders, helicopters, single and multi-engine sea, taildraggers, ultralights–and NO accidents or incidents–and an FAA Master Pilot Award to prove it. The airlines missed out on some good people–they (and we) ALL lost. Glad to see them get rid of this outdated “requirement.”

    • I was a bit like you Jim. While in the USAF, I got my civilian Commercial and CFI. At my last base, as an enlisted E4, I was a base Aero Club instructor. My students were mostly Lt. and Capt. T-37 and T-38 IPs needing a club C172 or T-34 checkout. A few of them definitely needed the checkout. Most didn’t really but were very gracious and polite with this enlisted kid telling them how to do it. I was USAF ATC and instead of trying to find a flying career after I got out, I did instead a 34 year FAA ATC career.

  6. I became to busy working making money to finish a degree after trade school (A&P and Pilot Cert.). In defense of a B.S. degree though… A person with a four year degree can get a $1 dollar cup of coffee for a Buck.

  7. I have a degree and professional license, the training is good for engineering, economics, and management work.

    Pilots do need to understand aerodynamics and airplane performance – some who flew for now-gone US majors were stooopid.

    But in general I say that IHR departments are too lazy to look beyond sheepskins, and some people hide behind degrees and licenses. (That’s I for InHuman. :-o)

  8. It was all part of the college loan scam/industry. Flying an airplane is a highly skilled trade, nothing more. Four years of college adds little to nothing.

    • Absolutely correct. And you could include an entire panoply of other technical/skilled trades that currently require expanding what should be a 6 month tech school (think military) into an expensive and unnecessary 4-year life detour.

    • It’s much broader than that.

      I say laziness of employers, challenge of evaluating people.

      And the ‘ivory tower’ fallacy in the minds of people, reality is that many perfessors for example are confused troubled people.

      I’ve worked with engineers who did not have a qualifying four-year-degree, one should have been a DER but FAA would have been lukewarm (a good FAA person noted that when I mentioned his name). He and another were top notch people. For their career perhaps they should have persevered to study to pass the exams. The other one had a degree in Physics, very good at logically figuring something out like a failure, very good at math, sensible.

      And I have encountered people who gave me cause to wonder how they got a degree, I think studying very hard with tutoring got them through but ….

      • But beware there are the opposite snobs – sneering at _learning_, they are Darwin Candidates and conspiracy theorists and ….

  9. Unfortunately the college degree requirement issue is not unique to aviation. Lots of other industries and businesses have it also. It is nothing more than a crutch for HR departments to use as an easy way to eliminate candidates for employment, even though a degree has no bearing on that position.

  10. I got a BS and MS degree in case I didn’t fly for a living. Then was a MX Lt awaiting a pilot training slot- slim pickings in 1994.

    Got my 5 lvl crew chief 623s just for kicks as I liked actually working as much as managing the flightline mx from a pickup with a clipboard and radio working rolling 4x12s.

    Got a knee rebuild waiver, UPT opened up, winged.

    Then Flew 20 years in the service, 9 active, 11 AFRC, Cargo civvie ATP for 15 now also.

    Folks that want the gig, get to the gig. Delays stink.
    Timing is everything for the big breaks. If you didn’t make it, it wasn’t the college degree. Everyone has a story of how they made it or did not from moving on to other goals.

    I agree, no degree needed. Some do well with college, others it is just a family/personal/financing scheme test.

  11. Wish they had done this about 35 years ago… back then you needed 2 lunar landings to a full stop to get hired.. but it was better than working for a living if you did get hired…

  12. And I just spent 250K on a 4 year degree in gender studies… maybe AOC will get my college and flight training paid for by all you people with money.

  13. This biggest obstacle is the 1500 hour requirement – an entire lifetime’s worth of flying hours for a private pilot just to become a trainee. The accident that spurred it had nothing to do with flying hours before the pilots were hired by the airlines. It would take two years if you flew 2 hours a day 565 days a year. Costs are another mountain. Unless you are a CFI (another cost and time commitment) the 1500 hours x a charitable $200 per hour = $300K. I guess that’s one of the reasons the military is the main go to for candidates.

    • That 1500 hour rule was always short sighted. All else being equal, yes a pilot with more experience is a better pilot. But because it restricts the supply (particularly among the smartest young people with lots of career options) it contributes to a shortage, and now airlines have to scrape the bottom of the barrel. And a bottom of the barrel 1500-hour pilot is much, much worse than an average 500 hour pilot.