Finance – A Barrier to Flight Training and Pilot Employment

Pilot training is expensive

Finance – A Barrier to Flight Training and Pilot Employment

In this article we explore the affect of access to finance on potential and qualified pilots.

Flight training is extremely expensive.  The Wings Alliance estimates that modular flight training costs between £45,000 and £65,000 (approx. €50,000 to €75,000).  An integrated course at an ATO such as FTE Jerez can cost €117,000.  And this is before you may potentially have to self fund a Type Rating – which may be up to €30,000.

An excerpt follows from a thesis entitled “Pilot Training – Developing a model to explain Pilot Employability.” The research examined the role Finance plays as a barrier to entry to flight training. Scores quoted in the excerpt are based on a scoring regime of 1 to 5.

Financial Situation

Professional pilot training courses are expensive. A “Frozen ATPL” course can cost in excess of €100,000.

Access to finance is clearly a potential barrier to those wishing to pursue a flying career. Survey respondents were asked, “Is raising finance for flight training a problem?” There was widespread consensus that raising finance was a problem, with an average score across all respondents of 4.5.

Those that indicated that they were considering commencing training or were currently in training were asked how much they anticipated spending.

Expected flight training expenditureExpected expenditure on flight training for those considering training and who have commenced training

A considerable number (9.5%) indicated that they expected to pay less than €45,000. Achieving a professional qualification at this level of funding would be extremely challenging. A potential explanation may lie with the fact that some potential students would not embark on their training unless they were on an airline-funded programme. That said, 50% of those who indicated an expectation of spending less than €45,000 were currently in training. This may indicate unrealistic expectations amongst some students.

Only 4% indicated that they expected to pay in excess of €136,000.

In general, those considering commencing training expected to pay more than those who were currently in training, for example, of those expecting to pay more than €136,000, 85% were considering commencing training and only 15% were in training.

Several financial institutions offer financing for professional flight training. One such institution is BBVA. Loans are secured on a UK property, which limits the finance in this case to UK residents whom have a suitable property available to mortgage. See BBVA (2017). A 24-month payment holiday is allowed to allow the borrower to complete their training and commence a job. The time frame for training is likely to be in excess of 14 months, meaning there is not much time to find a job with a salary commensurate with loan repayments. 22% of respondents report that it took over 12 months to find their first flying job, while 9% report that they are still job seeking.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents mortgage their properties to fund their children’s flight training. Parents should be aware of the challenges associated with finding a job, and should be cognisant of the implications of the loss of medical certification.   See for example FTE (2017).

HoTs were asked about the difficulty financing training. There was a common consensus that the airlines need to become more involved in financing training. One said that “money shouldn’t be the deciding factor,” while another suggested that airlines should provide candidates with “conditional letters of appointments” subject to satisfactory completion of the course which could be used for financing opportunities. This was echoed by another, who suggested that the industry should “flip the process,” and have airline selection prior to starting training.

Another HoT felt that the schools should “take on a level of responsibility” to enable access to student loans. Another suggested that at present “We [ATOs] restrict ourselves to only the people who can afford to be pilots” and that “if there was funding available there would be more applicants and we could select a higher standard of applicant.”

The industry is recognising the challenges in this area. For example, in Ireland, the National Civil Aviation Development Forum has been established including the Training, Skills and Education Working Group. The group is (amongst other things) identifying ways of improving access to flight training. See NCADF (2016)

In Norway, a government backed initiative is being introduced in 2017 to allow students to access up to 91% funding for professional flight training as well as funds to cover living expenses. Aviation Voice (2016) quotes Frode Granlund of the Pilot Flight Academy as saying “We believe this is the model the rest of the world needs to solve the Global Pilot Shortage, and the way to help the best-suited candidates to become pilots.”

The data indicates that accessing finance presents serious difficulties to perspective students. The industry is working to address the issue but in the current climate financing represents a significant barrier to entering flight training.

Sadly, the BBVA loan facility referred to in the excerpt has reportedly been terminated.

The data shows that some potential trainees (and some in training already) may have unrealistic expectations on the total cost of their training. Detailed research and planning should avoid a situation of investing significant funds in flight training, only to run into financial difficulties that prevent completion. When you are calculating the required finances for your flight training, be sure to include provision for all the elements, including the MCC/JOC and potentially a type rating. You will also have to cover the cost of a renewal of your Class 1 medical prior to qualification. Wings Alliance provides a useful calculator on their website which sets out all costs associated with modular training, including an allowance for accommodation.

The true four forces of flight?The true four forces of flight?

In many cases the choice of modular or integrated course appears to be dictated by finance, with the higher costs of an integrated course being out of reach of many.

The consensus appears to be that the airlines need to do more to address the financial barriers. At present, pilots entering training are in essence “self selected” by their financial capabilities. If a funding solution could be found the pool of potential applicants would expand dramatically, allowing airlines to choose from an increased number of higher calibre applicants.

The research also considered financial factors as a barrier to employment.

Financial considerations post qualification

A CPL in itself is not sufficient qualification to fly for an airline; the candidate must be type rated on the specific aircraft that the airline uses. Some airlines will pay for the type rating while others will charge for it directly, or indirectly send the student to a self-funded training provider.

The cost of a type rating is not insignificant. CAE (2017) state that self-funded type ratings cost between €20,000 and €30,000 in Europe. VAT may also be chargeable.

A significant number of survey respondents suggested that having finance to meet the cost of a type rating is an important factor in achieving employability. The prevalence of self-funding a type rating is evident from the data. Excluding sponsored cadets, 51% of respondents reported that they self-funded their type rating.

A type rating qualification in itself is no guarantee of a job, and 42% of those that report they are currently seeking their first job have already self-funded a rating.

Those that completed modular courses were only slightly more likely to self-fund a type rating compared to their integrated counterparts. Of those who reported paying for a type rating, 51% had completed a modular course and 46% had completed an integrated course.

42% of those considering starting professional flight training anticipate self-funding their own type rating. This figure rises to 52% for those in training. It could be implied that the reality of the need to finance a type rating only becomes apparent to some after they have already commenced training. There is perhaps evidence here of insufficient research being conducted by some students prior to committing to a course.

Some training providers / airlines have entered into partnerships to provide line training and sectors to inexperienced pilots who are willing to pay for the experience. The cost of these programmes is extremely high. A cursory search of the internet for “line training programmes” found programmes charging up to US $95,000 for an A320 type rating and 500 hours experience on type.

Difficulties in accessing finance for professional training have already been discussed previously and many of the considerations equally apply to funding a type rating.

In essence, the data suggests that not having access to funds for a type rating significantly limit the employment opportunities of graduates, representing a potential barrier to employment.

The excerpt shows that those intending to embark of professional flight training should do so with their eyes wide open to the costs beyond those of achieving a CPL. Approximately half of those surveyed indicated that they had had to pay for their type rating.

Surprisingly, a large number of surveyed qualified pilots who had self funded a type rating were still unemployed. Questions must be raised about the validity of experience received by a pilot who funds a type rating but doesn’t gain experience on the line. An airline that subsequently recruits these pilots may find that they have to effectively complete a type rating course with them again to get them to line standard. Buying a type rating doesn’t appear to be the silver bullet that some providers claim.

As any pilot job seeker will know, the costs don’t stop after qualification. Keeping your licence valid is expensive, but keeping current is more expensive again. You may feel that it is wise to get some simulator time before a sim check. Even maintaining your EASA Class 1 medical is an ongoing large expense.

Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to the costs associated with Professional Pilot flight training. There may however be light at the end of the tunnel. As the pilot shortage begins to bite airlines are having to work hard to recruit the volumes of pilots they require. Air France has recently launched a fully funded cadet scheme, check out their webpage. You do, however, need to be fluent in French. We hope you paid attention in Leaving Certificate or A Level French! Bonne chance! Perhaps even more significant is the change to the Ryanair Type Rating scheme, with the airline now covering the bulk of the cost of the type rating for successful candidates.

You’ve made a huge investment in your Professional Pilot training to date. Talk to Aspire Aviation about maximising your potential. Complete our Pilot Interview Preparation course. Email us today at info@aspireaviation.ie

Check out our previous articles looking at Airline Pilot Selection and Integrated vs Modular training.