As the global pilot shortage continues to grip the aviation industry, airlines and academies are busy ramping up training capacities.
In November last year, Ryanair announced it had partnered with SKY4u Aviation training Services based in Berlin, Germany to deliver a Ryanair Airline Pilot Standard (APS MCC) programme in Berlin and Vienna.
The partnership will ensure Ryanair continues to attract highly trained professional pilots to support its continued growth across Europe. This new EASA approved enhanced MCC programme gives trainee pilots a structured path to achieve training and reach a standard where they are ready to join the Ryanair Boeing 737 Type Rating programme.
Pilots on the programme are being trained by SKY4u instructors, using Ryanair procedures, as they take their first steps towards becoming Ryanair pilots, and over the course of the next four and a half years, up to 450 new pilots from across Europe will be recruited and trained by SKY4u, it is anticipated.
At the time of the announcement, SKY4u’s head of training and CEO, Captain Kay Wachtelborn said this was a unique opportunity for students to become commercial airline pilots.
“Ryanair has an industry-leading training department with an unrivalled safety record, and we are proud to be associated with them. This is a new approach to pilot training, and one that we welcome enthusiastically,” he said.
Several other airlines have recently announced new training partnerships to raise the numbers of pilots coming through. In January, Indian LCC IndiGo, said it had chosen UK-based Skyborne Airline Academy to train up to 100 pilots a year over the next five years, as part of the IndiGo Cadet Pilot Programme.
Reportedly, the Indian budget carrier, is cancelling dozens of flights every day over the next two months, as it struggles to find enough skilled pilots. The 18-month programme will enable selected cadets to train for a US FAA and Indian DGCA Commercial Pilots Licence and Airbus A320 Type Rating, before advancing into employment and flying the line as a First Officer with the Indian carrier.
Lee Woodward, CEO at Skyborne, feels that forging partnerships with pilot training academies is a fantastic way for airlines to secure the next generation of industry professionals and leads to an increased number of applications.
“Cadet pilots are taught to fly the way the airline requires them to, and tend to go on to feel a true sense of loyalty towards the airline they were recruited and trained for,” he says.
Some of these partnerships include a Letter of Intent to Employ (providing cadets successfully complete the training programme), and this level of security about future employment should certainly be attractive to aspiring pilots.
“Airlines are getting involved much earlier in the pilot creation process,” says Nick Leontidis, CAE’s group president, Civil Aviation Training Solutions. “They are looking for training to their unique professional standards from day one. Airlines are not just looking for first officers to fill the right seat, but they’re looking for candidates with the potential to become captains within their organisations.”
CAE works with over 300 airlines and trains more than 135,000 pilots annually at every phase of their career, and Leontidis assures that the demand for the profession is high, with more than 300,000 new pilots needed over the next decade.
Based on the most recent ICAO standards for professional pilot competencies, Leontidis observes that new assessment systems have emerged, promising the selection of candidates that not only can become competent first officers, but have what it takes to be successful captains. More objective assessments as pre-requisite for ab-initio training are being enabled.
Complementing ICAO’s standard for pilot competencies, the industry is also moving towards the inclusion of the unique operators’ cultural reality as selection criteria, enabling candidates to be even more successful in their assigned environment.
L3 Airline Academy has invested strongly in expanding its capacity to be able to meet the growing international demand for new pilots. In 2018, this included opening a new European Airline Academy in the Ponte de Sor, Portugal. This year L3 will be opening a new London training centre.
The facility will include classrooms and briefing rooms, as well as an extensive range of high-end training devices, proving a contemporary and progressive training environment for both aspiring and experienced pilots. The site will also house a production facility capable of manufacturing 30 full-flight simulators per year. L3 has a long history of working in close partnership with a wide range of airlines across the globe.
“These partnerships are positive, as they provide aspiring cadets with a clear career path,” comments Geoff van Klaveren, vice president of L3 Airline Academy. “They are therefore likely to increase the volume of applications. Over the years, these programmes have proven very popular with our cadets, and continue to do so. One of the key reasons for this, is that the airlines provide conditional job offers to the cadets before they embark on their training.”
In some cases, airlines are also offering to support access finance on their courses, for example with the Icelandair Cadet Programme, they are underwriting 100 per cent of the course costs for the successful applicants.
This leads to the question of whether pilot training for many prospective trainees is too expensive.
At Skyborne, Woodward recognises that learning to fly can be expensive and, as a result, many individuals can feel that a career as an airline pilot is not an option for them.
As outlined in the UK government’s long-term aviation industry strategy document, Aviation 2050, a 2015 survey found that training costs would exceed £100,000 for more than half of all trainees, but only 12 per cent had any kind of sponsorship. “Part of our philosophy is based around working closely with financial institutions to provide a number of innovative funding solutions, widening the talent pool, and giving more prospective airline pilots the chance to succeed.”
Skyborne recently announced a partnership with Optimum Credit, which allows cadets to borrow money, subject to status, to cover their course fees secured against a residential property. “These financial initiatives are absolutely something that needs to be echoed across the industry as, with an impending global pilot shortage, we cannot afford to continue to have such re-enforced financial barriers in place.”
Skyborne is also in discussion with various stakeholders on an unsecured funding solution. “If, and when, this becomes available, this will be a major step towards offering career opportunities to would-be pilots who otherwise could not afford to pursue their goals,” Woodward continues.
Van Klaveren feels the main issue isn’t with the cost of training, but is rather the accessibility to funding. The average cost is £100,000 to train to become a pilot and, once qualified, it takes about two/three years to gain a return on that investment.
However, improving accessibility to the correct funding is an industry issue, and the responsibility to address it lies with regulators, airlines and training providers. “It is a three-way process,” says van Klaveren.
He mentions that from a regulation perspective, the government could support access to funding by offering security through underwriting loans, much like they do for qualifications in career routes such as accountancy and law. “In the UK we also include VAT on training, which is a significant cost incurred on the programme for aspiring pilots that isn’t included in other EU member states.”
At L3, they launched the L3 Pilot Pathways initiative, which is a broader commitment to improving the accessibility of training to aspiring pilots from all backgrounds. In 2018 they also announced the L3 Pilot Pathway’s Female Scholarship, and additional scholarships and initiatives from the initiative will be unveiled this year.
CAE has a dedicated team that provides pre-employment support, guidance and advice to enable graduates to gain their first professional flying job. “We work with each student on an individual basis, matching their competencies with the needs of our airline partners located around the world.
“Becoming a pilot presents an important investment in training costs, but generates long term steady income, and is an attractive career choice for young individuals,” says Leontidis.
CAE has also made the career more accessible with the introduction of the CAE Women in Flight scholarship programme.
The CAE Women in Flight scholarship programme is part of a wider range of available CAE scholarships that promote pilot and aviation jobs in the aerospace industry. CAE offers more than 20 scholarships in various disciplines, including engineering, software engineering, computer science, aviation management, to women and men interested in a career in aviation around the world.
CAE will provide financial support to aspiring female pilots by awarding up to five full scholarships to aspiring female pilots every year to support greater diversity and a better gender balance across the aviation industry. CAE will also provide selected candidates with access to their first job through its global partners.
The objective of the programme is also to elevate the selected candidates to become aviation role models and inspire even more women to join the pilot profession.
The fact that only a small proportion of airline pilots are women is a clear and obvious issue that requires industry-wide attention. Van Klaveren highlights that there are many historical factors that have led to such a gender imbalance in the industry; however, the percentage of women embarking on this career is growing.
“More needs to be done to make the airline piloting career more appealing to both boys and girls from an early age. We need to show young people that the role is not out of reach and that it is attainable,” he says.
A great initiative, introduced by easyJet and the Girl Guides in 2018, was to establish an ‘aviation badge’ for Brownies. The partnership has the potential to introduce 200,000 girls aged 7-10 to aviation, and it is estimated that tens of thousands of girls will earn this badge in its first year.
Global changes towards greater work-life balance, and the extension in the retirement age to 65 and beyond, has also served to attract women who are changing careers into the profession.
At Skyborne, they believe that gender should not be a barrier to entry for pilot training, and it is crucial that more initiatives are introduced to encourage a growing number of young women to pursue a career in aviation. With a pending global shortage in airline pilots, stimulating interest from women to enter the career is an essential way forward.
Currently, only 5 per cent of airline pilots are women.