A new benchmark for flight instructor pay?

Since the recovery began from the pandemic and airlines began recruiting hard to operate their aircraft, a shortage of flight instructors has been a growing concern at both PPL and commercial pilot level in Europe (and pretty much everywhere else it seems). This is hardly a new occurrence, with periodic shortages of flight instructors a perennial thorn in the side of the flight training industry.

Now, Gloucester-based Skyborne Airline Academy, one of four UK schools providing integrated commercial pilot training programmes, appears to have set £65k as a realistic figure for a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR) instructor; a figure they say is roughly commensurate with a Senior First Officer airline salary.

Flight Instructor (FI) availability has historically been directly linked to airline pilot demand, given that many FIs view their instructor jobs as temporary employment ahead of gaining an airline pilot career. Accordingly, FIs tend to decamp in their droves to airlines when recruitment is buoyant, as is currently the case.

Under the modular training system, it was (and to a degree still is) common practice to become an FI after graduating commercial flight school, in order to build hours and experience ahead of joining an airline.  This route to the airlines has declined a little in popularity following the introduction of one-stop integrated commercial pilot training programmes in the noughties, where one can go from zero to flight deck in one jump without having to become an FI in between.

Nevertheless, becoming an instructor has historically been a viable option for those who have completed their professional flight training and have not gone straight into an airline.

As flight instruction has historically been a temporary career for many, and often for younger and less experienced pilots at the very beginning of their flying career, it’s hardly surprising that it hasn’t tended to pay that well, particularly in comparison with airline pilot salaries. But with demand for FIs being so high at present, pay (and associated employment conditions) does appear to be rising in an attempt to make instructing a more attractive career option.

In the PPL sector, before COVID, an FI would expect to earn around £25 per flight hour. Given that one hour in the air equates to around two hour’s work (when factoring in ground briefing, flight planning, aircraft checking, refuelling, admin etc), this doesn’t provide much of a living wage when one can only complete four or five flights a day. Even this may be a challenge given the weather, especially in northern Europe, and the restricted daylight hours during the winter.

Post-COVID, flight pay has been increasing gradually and a brief survey by FTN (a more detailed survey is planned in the new year) shows that on average PPL instructors are currently getting closer to £40 an hour, but even this improved figure must be set against the costs of obtaining their professional licences  and FI rating.

Meantime, in the commercial pilot training sector, pay has always been a bit higher as training organisations prefer career instructors over temporary FIs. Moreover, commercial instructors tend to have more experience and further instructor qualifications, such as those to teach Multi Engine (ME) and Instrument Rating (IR). Even so, even at this level pay has also historically fallen short of airline pilot salary levels.

So, what can commercial pilot instructors expect to get paid in the current marketplace? Skyborne has recently opened recruitment for FIs and is offering packages worth up to £65k, based on a base salary for £55k and bonuses of up to £10k per annum, based they say on realistic activity.

As getting to MEIR instructor level is a costly exercise, Skyborne also states that they are willing to sponsor instrument and multi-engine instructor ratings for the right candidates. Other enticements include “generous” pension schemes, flexible rostering, a sign-on bonus and relocation allowance. This is in addition to the undeniable satisfaction of training the next generation of commercial pilots, while working more sociable hours than most airlines pilots and being able to return home at the end of each working day.

Objectively, the Skyborne package appears to set a new benchmark for instructor pay, together with the welcome possibility of sponsorship to achieve the ME and IR instructor qualifications. These figures may well tempt experienced instructors to move to Skyborne, and should also be attractive to those pilots who enjoy instructing and are not entirely sure they see their future as flying airliners. The package may also be attractive to pilots wanting to leave the airlines but wanting to maintain a flying career.

For many, many, years, instructors have bemoaned their pay and conditions compared to their airline pilot colleagues. It will be interesting to see in the coming months if the Skyborne offer will become the new standard for the professional flight training industry.

 

Author: FTN Editor

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