Mission Aviation Fellowship

BALPA’s scepticism about the global pilot shortage and upfront training fees

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has issued a statement advising prospective pilots to be wary of current claims that there is an emerging worldwide pilot shortage.

Broadly, BALPA’s view is that airline pilot recruitment is currently buoyant and may remain so for the foreseeable future, but at the same time any claims of a pending global pilot shortage are to be viewed with a strong dose of scepticism.

“In 2023 we have seen increased recruitment across a large portion of UK and European airlines. This recruitment need is predominantly being met by experienced pilots, however we are delighted to see a proportion of those jobs being filled by pilots who have not previously held a commercial flying position.

“This follows a period of seeing a large number of those pilots who were made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic, either return to their pre-pandemic positions or gain new positions elsewhere.

“It is therefore our prediction that from 2024 for an unknown period, we are likely to see a sustained reduction in the number of unemployed experienced pilots and an increased demand for newly qualified pilots – increased demand compared to 2020 2022 requirements.”

The pilot union goes on to warn that claims of a worldwide pilot shortage are unfounded and not backed up by independent analysis or evidence.

“We do acknowledge that the United States is currently experiencing an acute pilot shortage and that eastern and southern Asia are experiencing a shortage of experienced pilots. However, these two localised shortages are not what is being experienced elsewhere in the world.

“In the UK, we still have around 500 unemployed pilots. We are unsure on numbers across the rest of Europe, however we are aware that it is improving.”

For those entering flight training, BALPA warns that “at any time [it] comes with inherent risks”. According to BALPA it will continue to educate the next generation of pilots and continue tackling those risks.

“We are delighted to see the launch of two fully funded airline backed cadet programmes. The first is the ‘TUI Airways Pilot Cadet Programme’. This long-awaited programme is welcomed and supported by BALPA as it removes the single biggest barrier to the profession: financial means.

This is also the first time BALPA have been able to support an MPL (Multi-crew Pilot Licence) programme, as with all previous MPL programmes the financial risk has been entirely placed on the trainee. With the funding structure that this new TUI programme offers, that financial risk is taken on by the airline and not the trainee.

“Second is a similar scheme announced by British Airways in July 2023. We are pleased to witness British Airways’ commitment to nurturing aspiring pilots right from the inception of their careers. Through the provision of a fully funded cadet scheme, the airline fosters the expansion of the talent pool, which – as in TUI – reaches beyond individuals solely reliant on personal financial means. This initiative serves to enhance diversity within an industry that has historically operated within a more confined sphere.

“For those not fortunate enough to gain a place on these programmes but still want to enter flight training or continue their training, we offer you the same words of caution that we always have. Do thorough research into each training route, each flight school that you are considering and never pay for all of your training upfront.”

BALPA adds that being cautious about making upfront payments to flight schools is particularly pertinent at the moment: “Flight training organisations have not been immune to the financial pressures caused by Covid-19, not to mention the rising costs of energy. As such, we recommend that trainees conduct their own research into the financial position of the flight school, prior to paying for any training in advance.

Unfortunately, in 2023 we have seen several flight schools collapse whilst in possession of large sums of trainee’s money. This has understandably been hugely distressing for the trainee Pilots who have been impacted by this. We continue to support our nextGen members with agreements with alternative training providers offering their support, access to the BALPA Benevolent Fund and the Pilot Advisory Group.”

In response to the collapse of two major commercial pilot training schools in the UK earlier this year, BALPA launched a campaign in partnership with aviation training industry representatives to try to gain financial protection for student pilots. As reported previously in FTN, BALPA wants UK government to force flight schools to ring-fence students’ investments. With no action to date from government, which appears to be unwilling to engage on such action at the moment, BALPA continues to warn trainees of the risks involved in paying upfront for flight training programmes.

“With so much risk involved in embarking on a career as a professional pilot, many hopefuls seek out flight schools who have close ties to airlines. Do not base your decision on the promise of a job with an airline from a flight school. Whilst some schools may have close ties with or contacts within airlines, the only certainty of a job with a company is a signed contract from that company. All too often we see members chose a flight school based on a “gentleman’s promise” of a job or a conditional offer of employment with a company, only for that offer to no longer be valid two years later at the end of their training.

“If enrolling in an airline ‘tagged’, ‘sponsored’ or otherwise ‘affiliated’ course, we recommend that pilots seek independent legal advice from a contract lawyer prior to committing to the training course or parting with any money. Particular attention should be paid to any ‘conditions of employment’ section, with regards to the airline’s hiring needs upon competition of your training.”

Image accredited to Fernando Peralta Rodrigues Airbus SAS 2023 media gallery


Author: FTN Editor

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