INDIANAPOLIS - An effort by Indianapolis-based Republic Airways Holdings Inc. to address what it calls a "huge shortage" of pilots officially lifts off Tuesday. The 13 students in the first class of the LIFT Academy were chosen from more than 600 applicants. Chief Executive Officer Bryan Bedford says the airline hopes to attract students who had previously thought pilot training was "unattainable, unaffordable or unfinanceable." Republic says it currently hires nearly 700 commercial pilots per year, and that number is expected to jump by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

In an interview earlier this year with Inside INdiana Business Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, Bedford said LIFT offers significant "value creation," starting with a guaranteed job for graduates.

Bedford says Republic has acquired 40 single-engine aircraft and 10 twin-engine aircraft for the commercial pilot training. The airline is partnering with Vincennes University to provide the academic component of the program. Republic has said it believes it will be the only regional airline to operate its own training academy designed to create a "classroom-to-cockpit' path for its students, combining flight, flight simulator, online and in-classroom training.

One of the goals of the LIFT Academy, Bedford says, is to be a more affordable and attainable option for potential pilots. The academy aims to deliver training for about $65,000, which Republic says is cheaper than most other aviation training schools in the United States. Bedford says the airline is also offering loan assistance and financing opportunities to students and families that qualify.

Republic says reports estimate a need for 637,000 new commercial airline pilots by 2036, thanks to factors including aviation growth and pilot retirements.