Wednesday, March 28, 2018

International pilot shortage has left New Zealand flight schools scrambling to find experienced training staff as airlines snap up their senior instructors

Flight schools have long been a recruitment pipeline for airlines, but the increased exodus of experienced staff is hitting hard because it comes as demand for pilot training is growing. 

Massey University School of Aviation chief executive Ashok Poduval​ said they lost a third of their 12 B category instructors last year and other schools reported similar problems.

"We've had increased numbers leaving for opportunities within the Air New Zealand group, which is a natural career progression for them and we don't begrudge them that, but the impact is that the number of B Cat instructors who are at the higher experience end is dwindling.

"We're not severely impacted yet, but we are concerned."

Ardmore Flying School chief executive Ian Calvert said normal instructor turn over had increased in the past six months as airline recruitment ramped up.

"If it continued at its current rate, it could cause a problem for student numbers; at the moment it causes an issue around how quickly we can train the next lot of instructors up to replace them."

Calvert said two thirds of his school's 150 full time students were from overseas, and the training demand from foreign airlines was growing.

Aviation New Zealand chief executive John Nicholson said flying schools were reporting a 20 per increase in students this year and a joint project involving the Civil Aviation Authority and the Royal New Zealand Air Force was being mooted in an attempt to ensure professional standards were maintained.

Unlike the Air Force, which trained its more experienced pilots as flight instructors, newly qualified commercial pilots routinely train as instructors to get their flying hours up to the level where they could get an airline job.

"The schools have the instructors, it's just that they don't have the experience levels they used to have … that clearly impacts on the ability to train the next generation," said Nicholson.

Poduval said one potential solution would be for airlines to release pilots with light aircraft experience to assist schools with training.

Calvert said a better career path and pay for instructors would also help retain staff, but industry attitudes to instructing needed to change.

"The stigma of 'only' being an instructor is probably the biggest barrier which is a real shame."

The New Zealand Airline Pilots Association represents both commercial pilots and instructors.

President Tim Robinson said junior flying instructors earned barely more than minimum wage and chief instructors were paid between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.

"It's pathetic. Historically it's been a rite of passage almost to go through that pain prior to picking up an airline job, but it's being exacerbated by the fact that the airlines are sucking up these pilots so quickly."

Robinson said the pilot shortage was a major issue and at a meeting with Transport Minister Phil Twyford on Wednesday he pushed for the student loan cap on pilot training to be eased so the numbers could increase from about 200 a year to 300.

It costs up to $100,000 to train as a commercial pilot and most students could not afford that without a student loan, Robinson said. 

Allowing for retirements and pilots going overseas to work, there was a big shortfall in the number of pilots required.

"We have 60 to 70 net commercial pilots coming into the system a year and it's not enough to cover the growth that's going on in the industry at the moment."

Industry sources have raised the pilot shortage as a reason for the cancellation of flights to regional airports. 

Aviation consultant Irene King said although the airlines "deny it until they are blue in the face" the situation had potential to become quite serious.

Air New Zealand said that while it was recruiting more pilots, it was not affected by the current global shortage.

It said flight cancellations were not due to lack of staff "although we naturally have the normal absences because of illness etc..." and lack of pilots had not driven the decision to withdraw services to the Kapiti Coast due to end next week.

Original article can be found here ➤

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