It’s no secret to Hoosiers in Central Indiana that Republic Airways is a major innovator in the state’s tech sector and beyond our borders. The regional airline employs more than 6,000 people, operates flights for three major U.S. carriers from the nation’s best airport, and is the 2020 “Best of Tech” Mira Award winner for Large Enterprise of the Year.

When the global pandemic hit, significantly impacting the airline industry to a point where flights are struggling to reach 50% of normal, some might wonder how any airline could survive. Republic Airways is positioned to thrive post-pandemic largely due to two things that pre-date the coronavirus and have established the scrappy, tech-heavy airliner as a global innovator.

  1. Its efforts to make careers in aviation more attractive, accessible and affordable is helping it – and perhaps the industry – overcome a global pilot talent shortage; and
  2. Its industry-first concierge and logistics app for its mobile workforce that sets Republic Airways apart.

Dell Technologies recently profiled Republic’s use of Dell technology to keep its workforce on top of scheduling and logistics in its continuous quest for operational excellence. Dell also applauded Republic’s Leadership in Flight Training (LIFT) Academy and mobile LIFT Lab, which Dell included on a global tour last year.

“We made stops in Las Vegas, Shanghai, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid,” said Republic’s Director of Communications, Lauren Gaudion. “In addition to wowing folks who took part in the flight simulation, we included our bold, adventurous marketing design and concepts in the branding that are visually wrapped around the Lab. It’s hard to miss us—and from all indications, it’s also hard to miss the impact we’re making.”

Republic created its “Crew Life” concierge and logistics mobile app in 2016 in partnership with fellow Indianapolis-based software development shop DeveloperTown. Before they had the app, flight crews would call the company’s dispatch center to learn at which gate their next flight would be and to confirm hotel accommodations if they were staying over. Crews were similarly in the dark if flights changed. The app has eliminated 70,000 phone calls that used to pour in annually to the dispatch center.

Lauren said other airlines are trying to design their own versions of the app.

A Republic Airways jet and two LIFT Academy airplanes fly together above the clouds.

More visible is the company’s solution to the talent crisis in the aviation industry. Because commercial flights will return one day, the need to generate more qualified pilots and technicians remains, she said.

LIFT Academy is a flight and aviation maintenance training school that offers successful students a preferred pathway to careers at Republic. It has quickly become one of the largest flight schools in the country and has made the pilot and maintenance careers more attainable and affordable in efforts to build diversity in those trades. COVID-19 safety measures have temporarily reduced incoming class sizes at the Academy but total enrollment has remained at capacity with about 300 students.

It can take a prospective pilot between 2.5 to seven years and $100,000 or more to gain the flight training needed to be a qualified commercial pilot.

“With LIFT Academy, we cut typical tuition costs of commercial flight schools by more than half and expedited learning times, so students can achieve their commercial flight certifications in as little as one year,” Lauren said. “In effect, we’ve opened the doors to men and women who may have thought that becoming highly paid and respected commercial pilots was beyond their reach. We’re making an aggressive effort to bring this opportunity to all ethnic groups and genders, too.”

Applying to join LIFT is free, and total tuition for the flight academy is approximately $85,000, which is lower than most other aviation training schools in the U.S.

Prior to COVID-19, Republic was hiring nearly 600 commercial pilots annually, and that number is expected to grow by 50 percent post-pandemic. Industry analysts forecast that the world will need more than 600,000 new commercial airline pilots by 2036.

LIFT Lab is a mobile unit the company takes to hundreds of STEM festivals and schools across the country. Middle and high school students get five minutes in the cockpit of a LIFT Diamond DA-42 twin-engine aircraft  with a virtual “flight instructor” flight simulator designed to get them interested in aviation careers. Inside the Lab are virtual reality demo stations, powered by Dell.

LIFT Lab visitors experience a five-minute flight simulation via virtual reality technology stations outfitted with high-performance computer power and graphics acceleration needed by the lab’s flight simulation software. Participants get a full flight experience enhanced with high-resolution visualization support.

“As a result of giving kids this hands-on, virtual reality flying experience, we’ve seen an uptick in interest in aviation careers, so we’re excited to get the Lab back out there when we safely can do that,” Lauren said.

Nirav Shah is Republic’s Vice President of Information Technology. He says technology is already pervasive at Republic, will be key to the company’s future success and will help the entire industry meet future talent needs.

“Through LIFT Academy, we are addressing the pilot shortage of tomorrow, and the Crew LIfe app is helping us improve workforce satisfaction and retention today,” he said. “I know it’s becoming repetitive for us to say, but it’s really true that we’re not a transportation company. We’re a tech company that has airplanes.”

Lauren said Republic’s success in tech has been, in part, a result of the Indiana tech sector’s collaborative atmosphere.

“Through TechPoint, we’ve been able to connect with new partners and to leverage relationships to bring the LIFT Lab to hundreds of young people,” she said. “We’re super proud that our Crew Life app, which is truly the envy of the airline industry, was developed right here. Being headquartered in Indianapolis is good for Republic Airways.”