The future of commercial flying is looking promising to say the least, according to the flight training organisations (FTOs) contacted by Pilot

By Philip Whiteman & Jenny Ross

Lee Woodward, Director of Business Development at CTC Aviation Group Limited, says: “The outlook for commercial pilots over the next five to ten years is very good as we head for a record expansion globally. The industry is working towards moving from a current global fleet of 22,000 airliners to 40,000 in the next ten years. The need for pilots to fly them will take the total pilot requirement to an additional 240,000 over those working today. Worldwide, the future generally looks good.” The Middle East and Far East are thought to be key areas of growth, and Lee says that demand is expected to increase at ten per cent, year on year.

Bob McGuire, Managing Director of Bournemouth Commercial Flight Training (BCFT), explains that this growth would also create additional jobs in Europe, as the eastern areas are currently unable to train captains — “So a lot of captains are moving out of Europe to the Middle East and Far East, which obviously creates opportunities in European airlines further down the food chain.”

He goes on to add that low-cost airlines also offer a good promise of a job for graduates as they have a higher turnover of pilots.

Richard J Gentil, President of Naples Air Center, Florida, says that changes to retirement ages in the USA may also have an effect on the professional market: “US pilots were being forced to retire at sixty years old, this inevitably meant that they sought jobs in Europe where they could continue to fly for an additional five years — the need was so great in the UK that the CAA had a special conversion programme for experienced airline pilots.

“Now that the US has matched the 65 year retirement age, and the backlog of pilots available to fulfil the employment requirements of the legacy airlines has cleared, the playing field has levelled once again. The need for pilots in the US has grown and this effect is moving to Europe.”

Growing training market

In terms of the training markets, Jacqui Suren, Chief Ground Instructor at ProPilot, says that some growth is expected: “Inevitably the European market will expand — but not necessarily to the extent forecast by aircraft manufacturers, which we understand, was determined prior to the current recessions and did not allow for such a prolonged static economic period.”

Nevertheless, according to BCFT, even if the expansion is small there will still be opportunity for a strong training industry: “We don’t see the demand for air travel going down at all within Europe, so that means they’re going to need to replace pilots that retire. One of the airlines told me recently that they were going to need three hundred new pilots a year just to keep them going, because of the turnover they get and the retirements they’ve got coming up.”

A number of the FTOs that Pilot spoke to also reported changes in the number of individuals undergoing training. CTC has seen an increase from 68 to over 300 cadets within a few years, and BCFT says that flight schools are benefiting from the increase in university fees.

“Whereas university ten years ago was free and you might even have got a grant, these days it’s going to cost you in excess of �30,000 just to pay the fees. It takes you three years to get your degree, plus all your living costs,” says MD Bob McGuire. “Some of the flying courses you can do these days cost around �60,000 and you can do them in just over a year — so that reduces the amount of living expenses you require — and you have got, at the end of that period, a very focused and valuable vocational qualification that can probably put you into a job that — with a little bit of luck — is going to be far above the salary that you would expect as a graduate coming out of university.”

He also says that there has been a change in the attitude of student pilots, with people taking time to put their training plans in place over several years.

On the flip side, one FTO reports that there has been a drop in students due to the lack of loan availability. “Numbers are far lower for students training primarily due to this,” a representative of the company told Pilot, “and it is this very problem that will cause a shortage of pilots throughout the airline industry over the next ten years, as we recover from the current economic climate.”

Furthermore, some FTOs report that the methods used in flight training are changing and evolving. Representatives from both CTC and ProPilot agree that pilots are being required to think more about the business side of aviation.

ProPilot CGI Jacqui Suren says: “The aviation industry is entering a new era. For airlines to survive and flourish when profit is, at best, five per cent, they require commanders to have a deep and secure knowledge of all aviation areas together with an understanding of their airline as a business.

“Therefore if ever there was a time when thorough, all round professional training was required, it is now. No airline wants pilots unable to assess and balance safety and economic requirements due to inadequate technical, operational and business knowledge.”

Bob McGuire of BCFT says that the structure of training courses has altered, with schools starting to move away from integrated programmes. However, Naples Air Center’s Richard Gentil disagrees: “Generally the training has not changed — whether students are completing their training under integrated or modular programmes the students still complete the same licence. Some airlines showed an affinity towards one method over another, however this has flip-flopped over the past eight years.”

He adds: “At the end of the day, the standards are still the same wherever you fly and students still need to give the same dedication to their studies to achieve high exam pass rates and first time flight test passes.”

Making an informed choice

So what advice do training organisations have for those wishing to work as commercial airline pilots? “Thoroughly research the job, the current industry trends and the training process,” advises CTC’s Lee Woodward. “Talk to pilots from a variety of airlines, visit open days and careers events that are supported by the FTOs, read industry publications and ask lots of questions. Thorough research is key to ensuring you make the right choice for you.”

Bournemouth’s Bob McGuire agrees with this, but also adds that “the first thing you have to do after the recent commercial failures is to be very careful about up-front payments to schools — there’s no real reason for them. if you can, you should only pay for each item of your training after you’ve done it — so pay-as-you-go systems are almost essential these days.”

On the other hand, Naples’ Richard J Gentil suggests that students start training as soon as possible in order to take advantage of the hiring forecast.

According to ProPilot’s Jacqui Suren, the right attitude is also essential: “Aim to be an aviation professional, not just a pilot.”

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