When regional airline bmi baby ceased operating in September 2012, a number of UK pilots found themselves unemployed and unsure of their next career step. The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) promised to help. The Direct Entry Pilot Career Day was created with this purpose in mind, giving pilots a chance to meet with recruiters and airlines, gain knowledge about current opportunities and get advice on working abroad.
The event, the first of its kind, took place on 2 October at the Radisson Blu Hotel at Manchester Airport and was aimed at qualified pilots with a minimum of 1750 hours. The morning was a chance to learn about the many overseas jobs available to qualified jet pilots, while the afternoon sessions dealt with the realities of a pilot’s life abroad, with several networking intervals throughout the day.
Over 200 pilots attended the event. Wendy Pursey, Head of Member and Career Services at BALPA, explained, “Essentially, the biggest problem at present for overseas airlines is not the recruitment of pilots but retaining them. Some of the turnover is because pilots have not been fully prepared for the variation in employment terms and conditions and the impact a new environment can have on them and their family. For our BALPA members that have been displaced in the UK, overseas employment can be tempting and we hoped this event and the BALPA guide would go some way in ensuring our members’ moves are considered and not shortened because of any unexpected ‘surprises’ further down the line.”
The morning saw presentations from CAE Parc, Paramount Aviation Resources Group, Emirates and Flight International, who talked about the opportunities available overseas. Each group presented TRI/TRE, FO and Captain positions in various overseas locations – as expected, the majority of the jobs on offer were further East, due to the ever-growing Middle Eastern and Asian commercial aviation industries, with full-time and commuting contracts available. While all of the speakers acknowledged that the industry is currently a volatile one, there were many positives too, indicating the situation will improve soon.
Cpt Chris O’Donnell confirmed that Dubai-based airline Emirates will have a need for 350 FOs from 2013. “While recruitment may have slowed for now as we deal with a backlog of pilots, 2013 will definitely pick up – year-on-year British pilots account for a high percentage of our roll, certainly over 20% at the moment.”
Cpt Michael Johnson, President of Paramount, explained that Qatar Airways has just taken a huge order of new aircraft and are expected to begin re-hiring in January 2013, creating more opportunities.
There was also good news from Cpt Brian Bradley from Command Prep, who revealed that the UK government is currently offering funding towards sim time for unemployed commercial pilots (read more here). Cpt Bradley also talked about the jump from the right to the left-hand seat and the importance of pre-structured command preparation programmes.
One pilot attending the event explained, “I’m here to see what’s happening job wise, as there are so many conflicting reports out there about what the market is doing. It’s good to be able to come here and get information straight from the horse’s mouth. Moving abroad isn’t really an option for me at the moment but it’s great that this information is there for British pilots who want to make that move.”
Another First Officer said, “I’m currently employed by a UK airline, but some airlines overseas offer an extremely attractive lifestyle package, and in my current position with few family commitments, today’s event is a good chance to find out if it’s a realistic move that I could make.”
The event also provided great opportunities for the exhibitors to get a vital insight into the current market. Erin Van Lunden from Aviation recruiter CAE Parc Aviation explained, “It’s great to have face-to-face interaction with pilots on this kind of platform. This event isn’t like years ago when pilots would just be given information to go away with and that was that. Lots of our information is now on the internet where everyone can research it, but today gives us the chance to get invaluable feedback from pilots on how they feel the market is doing and what they really expect from career opportunities abroad.”
Two pilots attending were curious to learn of the opportunities presented, but still felt as though their needs weren’t quite being met. One explained, “It seems like the event might be going in the right direction, but we’re turbo-prop pilots and most of the overseas recruiters at the moment will only consider you if you have jet-time. If there’s another event like this, I’d like to see a bit more information for pilots in our position too, as at the moment, I’m a bit unsure of my next step.”
The afternoon sessions focussed on the realities of a pilot’s life abroad and also an open floor session for Q&A. Cpt Mark Searle, Chairman of BALPA, talked through the realities of life working as a pilot abroad and urged pilots to consider every part of the lifestyle and thoroughly understand the terms and conditions before relocating. “The last thing you want to do is make a move abroad and then find two or three months in that it’s not the opportunity you were expecting. The best thing you can do is spend time researching everything thoroughly, from medical cover to licence requirements and also consider all the needs of other family who might be moving with you.” Lots of information and advice for pilots considering a move can be found at www.balpa.org or the BALPA Guide on Living & Working Overseas.
Wendy Pursey concluded, “The feedback from this first event has been positive from both attendees and the organisations present and has gone some way to fill that need for more transparent information. With over 200 BALPA Members in attendance it was an aspiring day and one we hope to build on.”
Date and venue for the 2013 event is to be announced soon.