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BALPA advises caution for potential pilots


BALPA (British Airline Pilots’ Association) attended the Professional Flight Training Exhibition at London Heathrow on 12 April, and delivered a clear message to future pilots: don’t let dreams become your master.

The results of a new survey of pilot cadets by BALPA has found that over half says they will be paying between £75,000 and £100,000 for their training, with one in six paying over £100,000. To find such large amounts, most are dependent on support from their parents or are building huge personal debt; very few have been able to find any sort of sponsorship to cover the initial outlay. Servicing this debt means that most have £500 – £1,000 per month to live on, with 29% saying they need to survive on less than £500 a month.

BALPA presented this message of reality at the Professional Flight Training Exhibition, and dealt with the myths circulating about a pilot shortage.

Jim McAuslan, BALPA’s General Secretary, explained, “The message I have presented to aspiring pilots is: don’t let dreams become your master. You will need resilience, dedication and a willingness to move between continents to find work. In the cold light of day, look beyond the apparent glamour and hype and only commit to the profession with your eyes open.”

McAuslan guided potential pilots to remember key skills that pilots need, along with the need to analyse yourself honestly, and see whether you have these skills. He also discussed the volatility of the industry and the threat from the casualisation of labour to the pilot profession. There were warnings also against flight schools which may ask for a lump sum, up-front payment, the importance of considering a medical before signing up for any type of training, and also taking the time to select the best training route for you.

McAuslan added, “We constantly hear about a drastic pilot shortage, but in BALPA alone we have more than 500 qualified, trained and committed pilots in membership who are unemployed and filling in with other jobs to make ends meet in the hope that something will turn up.

“We don’t want to put people off from fulfilling their dreams, but we want to make sure they know the difficulties there can be in getting there. It’s not as easy as some training companies would like to claim. In addition to the recent survey of pilot cadets, a BALPA survey of experienced commercial pilots in 2013 found that whilst 98% were proud to be a pilot, only 58% would recommend it as a career.”

As one of the cadets said in the survey, “You must have a huge passion for aviation. If not, or you are unsure, then the technical challenge of the profession, the stress of huge debt and the uncertain job prospects can demoralise. So enter with your eyes open.”