Among Performance Aircraft's fleet of planes on which its flight students can train are a Cirrus SR20 (left) and a Cessna 172R.

A surge in the need for airline pilots is the catalyst for a large expansion for a Lincoln company.

Performance Aircraft, which offers both flight training and aircraft sales, has announced plans for a new building at the Lincoln Airport.

The building will have a hangar for the company's airplanes as well as a 6,000-square-foot office area.

“We have been growing significantly over the past few years, and we have plans for even more aggressive growth in the next few years," said company founder and President Bill Heckathorn. "This new facility will be the perfect space for our company to expand and serve customers."

Much of that growth has come in flight training.

“The current need for pilots is unprecedented, and we expect to serve many more career-oriented flight training students over the next few years,” Heckathorn said.

The U.S. has more than 20 percent fewer trained commercial pilots than it did a decade ago, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. And the number continues to shrink.

A number of factors are contributing. There is a wave of pilots hitting retirement age. Fewer pilots are coming out of the Air Force and other military branches. And the federal government has raised requirements for the minimum number of hours commercial pilots need.

To deal with the shortage, airlines have been raising pay and adding incentives such as signing bonuses. Many regional airlines, which have been hit hardest by the shortage, have boosted pay by 50 percent or more.

Those moves have led more people to seek pilot training at places like Performance Aircraft, which has been in business since 2004 and based at the Lincoln Airport since 2006.

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Katie Ulrich director of operations at the company, said that a few years ago, most of its flight training students were either people wanting a pilot's license to fly recreationally or business owners looking to learn to fly themselves to save time and money.

Now, she said, "40 percent of pilots training currently are actually training for a career."

A flight school like Performance Aircraft's can be an easier and faster route than getting a four-year degree in aviation, Ulrich said.

And Performance has a stellar reputation in the industry, she said, with an accident-free safety record and a training completion rate that's more than double the national average.

Overall, Performance expects to more than triple its number of active flight training students over the next few years.

To that end, it has purchased several new aircraft, including a brand new Cirrus SR20, as well as a fleet of matching Cessna 172 Skyhawks. It also has added a Piper Seminole, a twin-engine plane that gives students the chance to train on a multi-engine plane.

In addition to the flight training center, Performance expects to continue growing its aircraft sales business, which averages about 50-60 sales a year, and hopes to offer other services in the future.

Performance, which is housed in temporary rental space in the airport's industrial park, hopes to break ground soon on the building, which the company expects to be open by sometime next spring.

Performance is the second aviation company in less than a year to announce plans for a new hangar.

Silverhawk Aviation completed a new 26,000-square-foot hangar in June that will house its expanded fleet of planes.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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