Alex Nikle

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Bjerke


The United States regional air carrier industry has recently undergone a substantial transformation in pilot salaries and hiring practices. Regional airlines are employing professional aviators at unprecedented rates in response to economic growth, regulatory reform, and legacy air carrier retirements. The resulting demand for professional pilots has drawn a new category of aviators into the airline industry, identified in this research as “second career” pilots. The following study used a mixed method design to examine the backgrounds of survey participants at two US flight training programs and determine their transition motivations. Through chi-square tests, t-tests, and correlation analysis, this study examined relationships among the participating individuals’ career change motivations. This study also involved interviewing selected second career pilots to obtain additional details surrounding their career transitions. The results of this study suggest that individuals pursuing a second career as a professional pilot primarily did so to achieve self-fulfillment, obtain better compensation, and reduce dissatisfaction with their previous occupation aligning with the theoretical findings of the Vocational Education Training Career Change Study. The concepts that emerged from this research were also tested against the Transtheoretical Model of Change. The goal of this research is to help US air carriers and educational institutes gain a better understanding as to the professional backgrounds of pilots entering the aviation industry. Understanding these factors will help ensure that air carriers are appropriately staffed as aviator attrition and resulting demand continues to increase.