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Going commercial: The experts give you their advice

PUBLISHED: 11:58 14 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:09 14 March 2018

Rathke, Thinkstock

Rathke, Thinkstock

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Seeking to become a commercial pilot can be a calculated risk – especially if you take the modular route – so what are the current employment prospects like? We asked some of the leading professional flight training providers for their views and tips. Compiled by Judith Austin

With the financial markets recovering at differing rates, still impacting economic activity in many countries, and with uncertainty surrounding a post-Brexit UK, is this a good time to consider becoming a commercial pilot? It’s a big investment in terms of time, money and dedication; will this be worth it and suitably rewarded? We sought the views of a number of training providers.

Our first question was about employment prospects, and the good news is that all respondents agreed that these are good both now and for the foreseeable future, particularly on fixed wing. Richard Gentil of Naples Flight Center says the cyclical nature of hiring pilots has changed. “Both Boeing and Airbus agree that between now and 2035 they need 617,000 trained and hired just to meet the needs of the nearly 40,000 aircraft being built during that time.” Alex O’Loughlin of FTA Global adds that “104,000 of these will be required in Europe” and that “supply is not keeping up with demand… A number of our graduates secure pilot roles within weeks of completing our courses.” Another factor fuelling this demand is identified by Anthony Petteford, Vice President & Principal of L3 Airline Academy: “A significant number of current airline pilots (born during the baby-boom) are now reaching their retirement age, further stimulating demand.”

There is further consensus on which regions and industries may offer the best prospects. Jordi Mateu of EAS Barcelona says, “There’s no doubt that Asia-Pacific, with China at the top, creates one of the largest volumes of work [and] the Middle East and Latin America are also experiencing a growing need for pilots.” Anthony Petteford and Richard Gentil agree. Anthony cited Boeing and Airbus forecasts that “forty per cent of new pilots between 2017 and 2036 will fly in Asia and a further eighteen per cent and seventeen per cent respectively will be needed in North America and Europe.” Richard split out actual figures, such as Asia 248,000, North America 103,000 and Middle East 58,000, adding that “China has companies willing to pay $400,000 a year tax free for B737 captains.”

Isobel Hall of Kura Aviation said: “Our pilots find work in scheduled airlines, with chartered airlines, regional airlines, short haul and long haul operators, with cargo operators and with business jet operators. Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian have been recruiting heavily for sometime and are set to continue doing so.”

EasyJet, G-EZWG, Airbus A320-214

On the helicopter side, Phil Croucher of Caledonian Advanced Pilot Training sees more employment activity in “the more obscure areas, such as crop spraying.” And that the most promising rotary sector is “Utility helicopter flying – there are several people freelancing out there.”

We asked if the type of training has changed emphasis recently and whether FTOs have seen a difference in the numbers of individuals coming forward to train. Jordi Mateu of EAS Barcelona comments, “The quality of the training has gained higher importance in recent years. Excellence is what matters. Technological advances in commercial aviation requires a constant investment in the latest materials, resources and highly-qualified teaching staff, capable of delivering the highest quality training in line with the requirements of air operators. We’ve noticed a greater influx of students from central and northern Europe… as well as the Middle East and South America. The latter are interested in obtaining a licence as prestigious as the European EASA.”

Alex O’Loughlin at FTA Global agrees, saying FTA now provides both integrated and modular training and has forged relationships with companies such as Kura Aviation and Virtual Aviation, who deliver specialist, airline preparation including enhanced MCC/JOC courses. She adds “The airlines are employing more and more pilots from a mix of reputable training providers that have completed different types of training.” Isobel Hall of Kura adds, “Modular trained pilots were perceived to be taking a greater risk and I think the high level of motivation, resilience and professional commitment demonstrated by individuals who ‘took the risk’ is now paying off.” Interestingly, Alex points out that the CAA is now issuing fewer licences but says that the number of students enrolled at FTA has increased. “Graduates recommend our training to others, to such an extent that we are almost fully booked for the next twelve months. Most of our students join our courses because of recommendations.”

Naples Flight Center’s Richard Gentil highlights a change due to technology, whereby students today follow “the magenta line. They want EFIS like the Garmin G1000 for their PPL training but the G1000 does everything for them so they are not learning the basics of being a pilot. They do not learn situational awareness and do not learn to navigate.” He claims airlines have stopped giving simulator tests in the USA as “too many applicants were failing”. Naples Flight Center places more emphasis on training without GPS on cross-country flights so students learn to navigate and improve situational awareness. “All the toys, bells and whistles come when they can gain the most out of it. The pilot of today must be proficient in both classic as well as new technologies.”

A340 Cockpit Anflug

At L3 Airline Academy, Anthony Petteford says: “stimulated by our growing airline partner demands, we are seeing a large increase in applications for both our Integrated ATPL and MPL cadet programmes as well as our more flexible Modular CPL/IR routes.” In response L3 has “invested in additional aircraft and enhanced our training facilities in Orlando Sanford, FL, Hamilton, New Zealand and Bournemouth, UK.”

In terms of how the job and training markets are likely to develop over the next few years, Alex O’Loughlin of FTA Global comments: “There is an unprecedented demand for pilots and the supply is just not large enough to keep up… but pilots must also meet the requirements of the recruiters. Students should not see the licence as a commodity [but]… ensure they choose the right school and receive high quality training.” Jordi Mateu agrees “The growth in demand for quality training to meet the progressive needs of airlines will oblige the training centres to strive to provide high-level courses without losing the efficiency necessary to provide the number of new pilots the sector will need in the short- and medium-term.” Anthony Petteford adds “The training industry must be agile. It is important that training providers can identify the changes and trends in the commercial airline landscape, such as the use of automation, to ensure that licence training provides cadets with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure the safe application of new technologies in a very busy multi-crew environment.”

Isobel Hall from Kura Aviation goes on, “We will see a continuing demand for high calibre, well-trained, newly-qualified pilots [and] training organisations and airlines may have to align a bit in terms of attracting individuals into the profession and maintaining high quality training standards in a market where funding is just not available to the same extent.”

Caledonian Advanced Pilot Training’s Phil Croucher sees a “move towards competency and simulator-based training, especially virtual reality, which we are already using on our helicopter sim.”

London Heathrow U.K. -  Boeing 747-400 06

FTOs offer a variety of advice and tips for prospective commercial pilots. Phil Croucher advises concentrating on getting the licence first and then thinking about jobs, as one has to follow the other, while EAS Barcelona believes pilot training doesn’t end with getting a licence and suggests “they never stop improving and perfecting themselves, getting necessary training and qualifications to allow them to ‘walk’ at the same pace as the evolution of aviation.” Richard at Naples Flight Center advises prospective commercial pilots first to “Get off the couch. Play team sports… learn hand-eye coordination. That is key. Second is personality: a positive personality will get you very far in this industry. Expect hard work during your training. An airline will take a person who was not a natural pilot but worked hard to overcome it and has a positive personality every time over a natural pilot who had it come easy but has a negative personality.”

FTA Global, Kura Aviation and L3 Airline Academy all feel research is vital before committing. Alex O’Loughlin says: “Choose the right school. Do the training for the right reasons and do as much research as you can… including the career itself, the training route, and flight school. This is a once in a lifetime purchase – probably the largest excluding buying a house – and it is totally intangible.” Anthony Petteford agrees. “I would advise all aspiring airline pilots to thoroughly research the profession and the range of training programmes and providers available. Good, detailed research will enable them to better understand which route best matches their own personal aspirations. I’d recommend coming to one of our monthly career events or contacting us for some individual consultation.” He adds “You have to work hard to be successful but the benefits are incredible… no day is ever the same and the view from the office is amazing!” Isobel Hall advises: “Know what you are getting into and go through a good assessment process. It’s better to find out at the beginning whether you have the skills and aptitude to become a commercial pilot before you invest a lot of money in training. Then... enjoy!”

When Pilot asked the organisations what developments they themselves had made in the past year and if they had any future plans, we got a variety of answers. Caledonian Advanced Pilot Training has replaced its Lear 45 simulator with a 737 simulator, and is now using virtual reality in its Bell 206 simulator. They have converted their study notes to a tablet-friendly format, and their free 12,000-question database covers not only EASA exams but most other countries too.

Naples Flight Center has added affiliations with Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Sky West Airlines, and WeFly Financial, thereby supporting a pathway to success for its students by offering financing, a four-year degree and a chance to interview with an airline – although it’s up to the student to prove themselves to the airline. As a young school, although with very experienced staff, EAS Barcelona has gone from strength to strength in its first year of operation. It plans to continue to consolidate and pursue growth, while maintaining the highest quality standards – aiming to become the go-to pilot training school in Spain and Europe.

Flight Simulator

Kura Aviation highlighted its ‘BESTPILOT’ programme, which has benefitted both integrated and modular trained pilots who graduated some years ago and were unable to get a job, some even thinking they would never ever fly commercially. Going forward, Kura intends to continue to offer BESTPILOT, having proven the concept with over 100 pilots in work.

Development plans for FTA Global include making training as accessible as possible, so that cost is not a barrier. It has developed “the most affordable integrated course in the UK” and says this is now even more affordable, using its new base in Spain, where one of the Integrated Flight Deck Programmes is delivered. The course is currently priced at £63,950. For the future, FTA Global aims to continue to deliver quality and student satisfaction above company growth. Knowing all the students by their first name, keeping student to instructor ratios low, and aircraft availability high is more important, it says.

In the past year, L3 Airline Academy has consolidated its products and services - previously delivered under the names Link UK, CTC Aviation, and Aerosim - into one unified business and brand: L3 Commercial Training Solutions (L3 CTS). The organisation is currently building a new London Training Centre near to London Gatwick airport, planned to open towards the end of 2018. It will be a purpose-built airline training centre and production facility to manufacture aircraft simulators. It plans to offer up to eight Full flight Simulators, thereby significantly increasing the company’s service offerings. In addition, L3CTS is investing over $15 million in additional aircraft and enhanced airline academy facilities at Orlando Sanford Airport, FL.

So the over-arching message to prospective or aspiring commercial pilots seems to be that there has not been a better time for some years to start training and/or to get a job as a commercial pilot. However, first make sure to do your research, then go for it!


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