Breitling Jet Team flies to inspire next generation of pilots

Many regional airlines are struggling to find pilots, due in part to the high cost of flight school.

In a new unique plan to address the pilot shortage, the Breitling Jet Team - the world's largest professional civilian flight team performing on jets - is going on its first American tour, to encourage aviation careers with air shows, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

Flying at speeds of up to 565 miles an hour - at times just ten feet apart - the seven powerful L-39 Albatros jets are a blend of aesthetics, performance and precision.

Pilot Patrick Gaston Marchand of the Breitling Jet Team is a former French air force pilot who's flown with the team for 12 years.

"I began flying gliders when I was 15 years old. I began to attend air shows when I was a kid," Marchand said.

With their brand prominently displayed, the company is spreading the word about its watches. But Thierry Prissert, president of Beitling USA, says there's another mission here.

"That's actually probably our number one goal," Prissert said. "And when you see these pilots flying those planes at air shows all around the country, you inspire people."

It's what inspired Marchand to become a pilot. And that inspiration could prove critical as some in the aviation industry are predicting a pilot shortage in America within the next ten years -- making recruiting young people to the profession paramount.

"We want more pilots. We'd like the aviation to flourish. We'd like the world of aviation to be a little more popular," said Prissert.

It's estimated some 21,000 will be turning 65 and face mandatory retirement from the four major airlines. Those jobs are often filled by military fliers or younger regional pilots moving up.

But these days, fewer people are pursuing careers in the cockpit, in part because of the increasing costs of education and flight time - an investment of up to $200,000 to qualify to become a commercial pilot.

CBS News' aviation and safety expert Captain Sully Sullenberger said what's really needed is raising pilot wages at regional airlines.

"It really doesn't make sense for entry level jobs in aviation to sometimes pay less than $20,000 dollars a year, or just over $20,000 a year, when it requires a lot of training," Sullenberger said. "I think that the major airlines must bear some responsibility for this current situation."

But at air shows, the challenges of the aviation industry gets lost in the clouds. What's on display here is the joy of flight.

Seeing this made seventeen-year-old Thomas Janke and his 14-year-old sister, Sydney, set their hearts on becoming pilots.

"Maybe one day that could be me up there," Janke said.

"We are just ordinary people doing extraordinary things," Gaston said of his Breitling jet team.

They hope those extraordinary things will make someone else want to reach for the sky.