- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

AURORA, Colo. (AP) - Longtime United Airlines pilot Willie Daniels sees a looming crisis barreling down on the nation’s airline industry.

The next 14 years could see as many as 70,000 pilots retire, he said, leaving a dearth of capable aviators to keep the industry thriving. That’s compounded by the fact that aviation isn’t drawing enough young people to its ranks, with just about 400 commercial airline certificates handed out to new pilots last year.

“Which is nowhere near what we need to help replenish the pilot population,” Daniels said.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that pilot retirements are expected to climb every year and peak at more than 2,500 in 2020.

Daniels’ nonprofit organization, Shades of Blue, aims to get young people interested in careers in aviation and aerospace with the hope that those young people will get into the pipeline and one day replace today’s pilots when those longtime aviators inevitably retire.

Recently, Shades of Blue marked the largest gathering of black astronauts - 13 of the 20 African Americans to ever work for NASA as astronauts - under one roof in recent memory and possibly ever.

“To bring this many people under the same roof at the same time, that’s pretty difficult to do,” Daniels said.

Daniels said he started talking to a friend from NASA about organizing an astronaut reunion about a year ago.

Of the more than 300 NASA astronauts, 20 have been black, which makes getting a dozen or so in one place at one time a tough effort.

The next 14 years could see as many as 70,000 pilots retire, he said, leaving a dearth of capable aviators to keep the industry thriving. That’s compounded by the fact that aviation isn’t drawing enough young people to its ranks, with just about 400 commercial airline certificates handed out to new pilots last year.

Shades of Blue mentors young people who are interested in aviation, aerospace and engineering, tracking them through college and when they graduate, helping steer their resumes to human resources departments in their preferred field.

Hopefully, Daniels said, Shades of Blue can help get 250,000 young people into that pipeline in the coming years.

The main goal, Daniels said, is for young people to see astronauts and others who have had amazing careers - and amazing lives - because of their success in aerospace and aviation.

If young people see that type of success, hopefully they want to choose a similar career path.

“These are true heroes for our nation and it’s important for our kids to see these folks,” Daniels said. “These people in their lifetime and their careers with NASA have risked life and limb for the benefit of all mankind.”

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Information from: The Aurora Sentinel, http://www.aurorasentinel.com/

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