Dave Calderwood


With Dave Calderwood


Time for change in professional pilot training

These are tough times for flying schools and those paying big bucks to train as a professional pilot… and changes are needed asap

Two well-known and respected flying schools going bust within weeks of each other, leaving students who had paid money upfront for training out of pocket, is an awful thing to happen. Some of the students involved, training to become professional pilots, have paid thousands of pounds in advance and are very unlikely to see any of the money returned. 

For some it may be the end of their ambition to become a professional pilot – they simply don’t have the cash to pursue the dream any more. 

Others may have been given the money by parents who took out a loan using their houses as collateral, something that’s hard to do more than once.

Both of these flying schools were mostly engaged in training for the ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence) rather than a PPL, hence the sums of money are bigger and the stakes higher. 

It seems unthinkable in these days of across the board consumer protection that this is possible, and one industry figure has questioned whether the financial stability of an Approved Training Organisation (ATO) should be more diligently researched by the organisation approving the trainers, in this case the UK CAA. 

At the very least, students’ paid fees should go into some sort of protected escrow account.

Coincidentally, just this week, the Department for Transport issued yet another report (it’s been very busy over the past month), this time Addressing the Cost of Pilot Training.

It’s less about protecting fees paid upfront and more about the sheer cost of ATPL training in the first place, which the report’s writers estimate at anywhere between £60,000 to £150,000. Not surprising, the report suggests this limits the pool of potential pilot candidates.

The good news is that the DfT seems to be taking this seriously, unless this is just another of those reports written to satisfy the minister.  It identifies possible improvements for the existing First Officer Apprenticeship and other ways of funding the training required.

Don’t hold your breath. While it mentions worthwhile tweaks such as zero rating the VAT on pilot training, it also concludes the only real solutions are for the Government to offer student loans at zero or low interest rates, or for the airlines to up their game and start contributing – and there’s reluctance to do that.

Fortunately, that’s beginning to change slowly, particularly in regions where the pilot shortage is beginning to impact on flight operations, notably the USA.  No sign of Europe’s top low cost airlines joining in such a worthwhile cause though.

It’s time for some leadership in pilot flight training, making finance available somehow and protecting that money so it’s used for what it’s intended.


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