Delta Air Lines shares more details, answers questions about Propel Pilot Program at MTSU

Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines

Representatives from Delta Air Lines visited MTSU’s Student Union Building ballroom on Friday to reveal more details about their upcoming hiring endeavor for MTSU aerospace students and to answer questions from those students about the program.

In July, Delta announced their Propel Pilot Program as a response to increasing demand for pilots over the next decade. Under the program, successful candidates are offered a “Qualified Job Offer,” which helps students to accelerate the time it takes for them to become pilots. MTSU was one of eight schools in the country selected by Delta for this initiative.

Cookies decorated in the shape of Delta’s Propel Pilot Program and uniforms are available for attendees in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Aug. 31, 2018. (Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines)

On Friday, Delta elaborated and shared details on the program which is launching this academic semester. University Provost Mark Byrnes welcomed a full room of students and faculty at the event. Refreshments and cookies were provided for attendees. In recognition of Delta’s new uniform color, the room was lit with “passport plum” blue lights.

“The Propel Pilot career program really is an amazing opportunity for our aerospace students to prepare for careers in the aerospace industry and specifically as pilots with Delta,” Byrnes said.

Delta Capt. Patrick Burns was invited to the stage to speak about the new program. He began by telling a brief history about Delta Air Lines.

“Everything starts somewhere,” Burns said. “Delta Air Lines started back in 1924 as the first commercial crop-dusting business when in Macon, (Georgia), Huff Daland dusters started spraying for the¬†boll weevil insect that was devastating cotton crops (in the area).”

He said that Delta later moved to Monroe, Louisiana, where it flew its first passenger in 1929.

Delta Capt. Patrick Burns gives students a brief history of Delta Air Lines and its “humble beginnings” in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Aug. 31, 2018. (Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines)

“(It was) pretty humble beginnings spraying for bugs,” Burns said. “Great things grow from humility.”

And grown it has. Delta Airlines has since expanded into a multi-billion dollar company over the past century. According to Forbes’ “The World’s Largest Companies” list, Delta currently ranks number 224 out of 2,000 of the largest companies globally.

Burns then explained that the idea for the Propel Pilot program wasn’t thought up immediately. He explained that through focus groups consisting of university and high school students, as well as teachers and faculty, Delta found several factors in the process of becoming a pilot that they wanted to address. One issue was the difficulty of successfully traversing the degree to become a pilot.

“How do (you) get from where you’re sitting now to me swinging the gear for you going to New York, Prague or Buenos Aires,” Burns said. “That path has been difficult to navigate over the years. This program is going to clarify that path for you.”

Burns explained other barriers to learning included financing and student flexibility. On financing, Burns said that he was willing to work with students to help address one’s finances as a barrier. Delta Air Lines has not yet offered any scholarship or monetary awards for MTSU students, but Burns said it was a possibility that Delta may address this in the future.

To address the student flexibility barrier, Burns said that the Propel Pilot program was designed in a way to address different career paths.

“Even if we offered a career path that had an airplane, a base and career, what we heard (from focus groups) was that ‘we want options,'” Burns said. “So the Propel Program has kind of baked into it a corporate path, a regional airline path and a military path.”

These paths work as options for students depending on what career goal they wish to achieve. For example, a student interested in serving with the military would have a different required curriculum built around their career goal than a student interested in flying for a regional airline.

After explaining this, Burns brought Delta First Officers Brent Knoblauch and Ashish Naran to the stage to explain more details about the Propel Pilot Program.

Knoblauch began by explaining to students in the audience that Delta was committed to being a part of their education.

“We’ve got a college liaison team, (which is) a team of pilots who will grow over time (and) will be here every semester,” Knoblauch said.

He then introduced Delta First Officers and MTSU alumni Demetrius Beard and Eric Wesley as the two people who will lead the liaison team at MTSU. Afterward, a video presentation was shown to the audience explaining that Delta would be hiring more pilots. The video ended on the phrase, “Are you ready?”

“Are you ready?” Knoblauch said. “That is the question that Delta Air Lines is asking you today, (and) that is a challenge that Delta Air Lines is laying out for you today.”

Knoblauch prefaced by explaining that Propel was not the only way for students to become Delta pilots and that Delta is interested in hiring plenty of new pilots over the next decade.

Naran then spoke about the increasing demand for pilots due to upcoming retirements.

Delta First Officers Brent Knoblauch and Ashish Naran display a graph indicating upcoming retirements in Delta Air Lines. Naran explains that the black line in 2016 represents when Delta began looking into creating the Propel Pilot program in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Aug. 31, 2018. (Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines)

“This graph behind us shows where we started this journey,” Naran said. “That black line behind us is around 2015, 2016 when we tried to figure out a strategic development to help students like yourself come to Delta.”

Naran explained that this graph was “really good” for students, indicating that there will be many more job openings at Delta over the next decade.

“We have to retire 52 percent of our pilot force in the next 10 years,” Naran said.

Knoblauch then spoke about the six “key” requirements to apply for the Delta Propel Pilot Program:


  1. Students must intend to graduate from one of Delta’s partner institutions. All students at MTSU are applicable for this.
  2. Students must be a Junior, Senior or have graduated within the last six years.
  3. Students must currently be enrolled in or a recent graduate of a major which provides R-ATP eligibility. A bachelor of science in aerospace with a professional pilot concentration at MTSU will meet this.
  4. Students must at least have a private pilot certificate.
  5. Students must have completed one additional Part 141 flight course at MTSU.
  6. Students must have a first class medical.

Naran explained the three defined routes that Propel offers. Students can choose between flying for Delta Connection Carriers, Delta Private Jets or serving the military by flying either the Air National Guard or Reserve.

Delta First Officers Brent Knoblauch and Ashish Naran display this flowchart illustrating the different routes students can take to become a Delta pilot in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Aug. 31, 2018. (Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

“In 42 months or less, we want to call you up to Delta and put you in a new hiring class at Delta,” Naran said. “We’re really excited (to say that in) three and a half years if you guys hit those routes (and) you guys meet your certain times, we want you to come be a part of our family.”

Naran also said that Delta wants to serve as mentors for students during the process. Knoblauch then explained Delta’s expectations of students in the Propel program.

Prior to pursuing any of the three routes, students are expected to become a flight instructor. Students are required to instruct until the end of their semester that they reach expected ATP minimums. Once a student progresses from there, they are given the option to choose which route they would like to take. MTSU’s Delta liaison officers can assist students in making their choice by giving them recommendations.

Afterward, Knoblauch and Naran spoke to the audience about Delta’s core values.

“You will have an opportunity that literally no one has ever had before, sitting in this room,” Knoblauch said. “That opportunity comes with a bond of an expectation for you to remain humble, because throughout your career and your path … you are going to interact with people who have not had the same opportunities that you’ve had … You will fly with people who don’t have this opportunity.”

Knoblauch and Naran then took questions from students in the audience.

One student asked if an internship at Delta meant that they weren’t allowed to intern with anyone else at the same time. Knoblauch responded by explaining that internships with other companies were allowed and encouraged. Another student asked if deployment with the Guard Reserve while taking the military route would take time away from a student’s Propel process. Knoblauch explained that Delta will be flexible in these sort of situations and adapt to a student’s duties when serving the military route.

A raffle was held at the end of the event, where MTSU Mascot Lightning stepped onto the stage and gave out prizes to students in the audience.

More information about the Delta Propel Pilot Program can be found here.

To contact news Editor Caleb Revill, email

For more news, follow us at, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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