Border authorities recruit students to help pilot shortage

GRAND FORKS (AP) — Hockey players aren’t the only students at the University of North Dakota who are getting recruited at a young age.
A federal agency that finds itself competing for pilots in a tight market is offering part-time jobs to underclassmen at the Grand Forks college with hopes they will help protect the country’s borders when they graduate. Students can earn as much as $14 an hour while working as aviation enforcement trainees for U.S Customs and Border Protection.
There are $100,000-a-year jobs waiting for them when they graduate.
“In a nutshell, everybody is looking for qualified pilots,” said Ken Polovitz, assistant dean of the UND aerospace school. “I’ve been involved in job opportunities with aviation students for over 30 years and we’ve never seen it like this.”
The CBP’s Air and Marine Operations selected North Dakota to kick off the so-called Pathways Program in part for its proximity to the national security branch that guards the northern border, said Yvette Darnaby, an agency spokeswoman. The agency will evaluate the program after a year before rolling it out to other colleges and universities, she said.
The program is open to sophomores and juniors who have a grade point average of at least 3.0 and pass a background investigation and drug tests. About 80 of them applied for 15 positions. The agency has picked its candidates but declined to release their names.
The job description shows that students will help with the development of operational plans for certain missions, interact with state and local law enforcement officials and perform security liaison duties. Once they graduate, pass a lie detector test and build up enough flight hours, they will be eligible to fly manned or unmanned planes for a force that includes 700 pilots in 74 locations.
“This really is a win-win,” said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota. “Not only do UND aerospace students get a job and get paid while they’re going to school, but Customs and Border Protection gets these great young people to help them carry out their very important mission.”
The University of North Dakota aerospace school, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has more than 2,000 students from 12 countries. They have access to a fleet of more than 150 aircraft and flight training devices. It was the first school to start an undergraduate degree for unmanned aircraft systems.
Polovitz said the expansion in aviation, a strong economy and the expected abundance of retirements has practically guaranteed that pilots, technical staff, mechanics, air traffic controllers and managers will find jobs. Regional airlines have started recruiting students after their freshmen years, he said.
“Twenty years ago if a regional airline winked at you, you had a party,” Polovitz said. “Now if a student works hard and takes the steps, they can pick and choose where they want to go.”