TULSA — Cherie Baugh loved boarding airplanes as a girl and rocketing through the air.
And being a pilot was her childhood fantasy, the way some might dream of being a superhero or a princess.
Then she realized that people are actually paid to fly airplanes.
"It just hit me one day that someone does this for a living," said the 27-year-old Tulsa Community College flight school student. "And I can do this."
By the end of this year, Baugh hopes to have her certified flight instructor certificate and, maybe within another year or two, enough hours to qualify to fly for a regional airline.
She may have plenty of opportunities to pilot a commercial jetliner at 35,000 feet if she can work her way through an arduous and expensive process.
The demand for airline pilots is expected to take off in the coming years, with the need for as many as 85,700 additional pilots in North America by 2032, according to a 2013 report from The Boeing Co. based on projected aircraft sales.
Worldwide there will be a need for about a half million additional pilots, with the bulk in fast-growing airline industries in Asia.
And in a variety of ways, it has never been a more turbulent time for recruiting new pilots.
Baby boomers comprise the majority of pilots flying commercial jetliners, and airlines must reload with younger pilots if they hope to keep planes in the air. Federal law allows pilots to fly commercial passenger jets only until age 65, a threshold that was raised in 2012 from age 60.
New rules from the Federal Aviation Administration also require pilots to get more training and give airlines stricter guidelines for rest requirements for staff.
"The major airlines and regionals are going to need more pilots," said Capt. Tom Hoban, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. "Right now, it's pretty much driven by retirement and attrition, and you will have to add some add additional crew members for FAA changes to pilot rest requirements."