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Dreams grounded: Cadet pilots face uncertain future as coronavirus turns shortage to surplus


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SYDNEY/MONTREAL/SEOUL (Reuters) - Mark, 34, quit his job as a town planner in London last year to start flight-training school, buoyed by a conditional offer of employment with budget carrier easyJet at a time when the airline industry was desperately short of pilots. The coronavirus pandemic has changed all that, with carriers furloughing pilots by the thousands and airlines including easyJet, Delta Air Lines Inc and Germany's Lufthansa forecasting they will be smaller for years until demand fully returns.

"It is like almost an entire career pulled from under your feet," said Mark, who declined to provide his last name due to concerns about his future prospects.

 

 

He had expected to complete his 109,000 pound ($136,000), 18-month training programme in December but now faces uncertainty over the timing due to lockdowns.

 

 

He remains in the dark about whether easyJet will still need new pilots when he completes his training or if he will be forced to look at other airlines or return to his old career.

 

 

An easyJet spokeswoman said the airline had instigated a recruitment freeze due to the pandemic impact which reduced the need for new pilots.

 

"We are continuing to review our pipeline of those cadet pilots set to join easyJet in the coming months and as soon as the situation changes we plan to prioritise roles for them," she said.

 

The crisis marks a sharp reversal from recent years when some airlines had been paying sign-on bonuses of $25,000 to $30,000 to lure pilots, said Andre Allard, president of Montreal-based aviation sector recruitment agency AeroPersonnel.

 

"We used to run after the candidates," he said. "Now they are running after us."

 

Two years ago, some regional airlines grounded planes for lack of pilots and carriers such as Emirates and Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd struggled to fully utilise their jets because of training bottlenecks.

Now Qantas has shelved plans to open a second pilot training school due to the coronavirus, which has led it to ground the bulk of its fleet and place staff on unpaid leave. Major U.S. airlines have frozen pilot hiring.

 

The previous boom in pilot training could turn into a bust for schools that invested to accommodate more students.

 

Thierry Dugrippe, head of Canadian pilot training school Air Richelieu, said he expects a decline in enrolment of 30% to 40%.

 

He said students about to complete the 20-month commercial line pilot training program, which costs C$85,000 ($61,000), are looking at what to do next.

 

"They are asking a lot of questions," Dugrippe said.

 

Training provider CAE Inc said two cadet programmes at its Phoenix flight school were suspended at the request of unnamed sponsor airlines due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

TOUGH MARKET

 

In Seoul, a pilot in his 20s who had been hired as a trainee at budget carrier Eastar Jet had his contract cancelled on April 1, alongside around 80 colleagues.

 

The pilot, who declined to be named because he was concerned about getting a job in the future, paid 150 million won ($124,000) to gain his license at a U.S. flying school, lured by the global pilot shortage.

 

 

"A lot of people quit their jobs and headed to aviation schools abroad to get pilot licenses, because carriers were actively recruiting pilots at that time," he said.

 

 

Eastar said it cancelled the contracts of around 80 trainees due to deteriorating financial conditions.

 

 

Mark, the easyJet trainee, said one of his hopes was that some pilots would take early retirement due to the downturn, leaving openings for new hires when demand returns.

 

 

In the United States, up to 5,000 pilots a year could retire in the next few years, according to Kit Darby, an aviation consultant and former pilot.

 

 

U.S. pilot hiring could begin again in two to three years due to those retirements, he said, but that makes it a tough market for pilots finishing their training earlier.

 

 

Danny Lynch, 36, who had previously worked in digital marketing, finishes a 99,000 pound, 18-month flight training course in Oxford in mid-2021 and is banking on a quicker recovery.

 

 

"I certainly hope that by then, the market has improved," he said.

 

 

Those due to finish training earlier, like Lauren, a trainee in her 30s at a British flight school, are busy coming up with contingency plans.

 

 

Lauren, who declined to provide her last name, does not yet know when she will complete her course which was paused during lockdowns, nor whether airlines will be hiring at the end of it.

 

 

For her, options if a commercial pilot job is not immediately available could include returning to her old corporate career and flying small planes as a hobby on the side.

 

 

"I'm very lucky because I do have a former career to fall back on," Lauren said. "I have just got to come up with contingency plans A, B, C, D."

 

 

($1 = 0.8017 pounds, 1.3875 Canadian dollars, 1,210.7100 won)

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While this is on a larger scale than ever before, job security in flying has never really existed. Medical issues and boom and bust are a constant feature of the job.. A lot of UNI graduates are in similar positions with high debts and little or no job prospects. This Virus is big one with yet unknown extent of the consequences but what ever it is it won't be small. WE already had systemic problems world wide and were generally ill equipped in many ways to cope with it despite frequent predictions and warnings. Nev

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While this is on a larger scale than ever before, job security in flying has never really existed. Medical issues and boom and bust are a constant feature of the job.. A lot of UNI graduates are in similar positions with high debts and little or no job prospects. This Virus is big one with yet unknown extent of the consequences but what ever it is it won't be small. WE already had systemic problems world wide and were generally ill equipped in many ways to cope with it despite frequent predictions and warnings. Nev

 

Well said Nev.

The aviation game has always been a gamble, like they say never put all yr eggs in one basket! It's just bad timing is all but then again bad timing had riddled the flying game since the Wrong Bro's first ever left the ground?

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When i was going to TAFE there were people in a 4 year TAFE course as type setters. You could imagine those in their 4th year when the papers went digital !

 

What a waste of time and money to have an industry change that quickly.

 

In fact as a kid one of my friends families went broke when the world stop using carbon paper to get multiple copies. You would simply press print on a dotmatrix printer and you could get as many copies as you want.

 

History will teach us that the only thing in our future is change.

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Working in AG I have only had maybe 3 permanent jobs in 40 years flying, they don't last long due to vagaries of weather and commodity prices. The last 10 years have been regular summer work on fires. I have friends that flew airlines and are now out of work, they are stressed. I usually go through that twice a year, once after fire season then after whatever (If I get work) work I can get in the winter here or Northern hemisphere summer.

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"Thus the student learns a valuable lesson"

 

For the last six months I have been hearing the following statements from airline pilots involved in recruitment:

 

"We have have a long run of unprecedented stability and growth in a typically cyclical industry. It won't last forever"

 

"Always have a Plan B. What is your Plan B?"

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The intake of Qantas cadets to be trained starting 1970 ended up all laid off or without jobs. I recall that because I wanted to be one, luckily wasn't.

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The way aviation has been since the first flight......

Wilbur was extracting himself from the wreckage of one of their Kitty Hawk aircraft crashes and Orville heard him say “All this just to bonk a few hostiess”

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Might be the Uniform effect . so I'm told. . Police, soldiers etc. Are judges cross dressing when they wear wigs .? They have ball bearing hosties these days as well. Everything is changed. Nev

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Might be the Uniform effect . so I'm told. . Police, soldiers etc. Are judges cross dressing when they wear wigs .? They have ball bearing hosties these days as well. Everything is changed. Nev

Nah the trolley dollies these days come in both flavours and are 20 years old with their heads stuck on social media 24/7! Relying on them in an emergency these days would be like getting the Govt to help you!?

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The intake of Qantas cadets to be trained starting 1970 ended up all laid off or without jobs. I recall that because I wanted to be one, luckily wasn't.

Hey me too pm ! a blessing in disguise huh.

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The quiet time was 66 to1970. after that it moved a bit. I don't particularly advise going for Airlines, when asked. I wouldn't worry about missing out on it. It's not what it's cracked up to be. The good days were 50's on when things got going with pretty dangerous planes that got your attention fairly often. The pay was lousy and often you had to cook your own food etc if you flew freight at night. No one gave a stuff if you lived or died.. You'd get a change of clothes and not even go home. Bit like those ruskies in Willedo 's vids. People drank too much. All the critical issues with the kids at home happened when you are thousands of miles away. You couldn't arrange much for Christmas or new years eve because some sod would go sick and you'd get drafted for a midnight Darwin or Perth. they originally had on their block. Later you'd find out they were at a party.. None of the e x wartime blokes pulled that stunt. They'd fly sick as a dog rather than take a sickie .Nev

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well i'm certainly glad i have my Kodac film developing skills for when I finish up in China after all these years here and settle back iin Oz

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It's interesting to see that Berkshire Hathaway have dumped all their airline shares during April, at a substantial loss. Most of the American airline shares are trading at a third or less of their pre-COVID-19 value.

 

What is more interesting, is that Warren Buffet refused for years to invest in airlines, and warned others not to invest in them, as he regarded them as a constant poor investment.

But in 2016, he was obviously persuaded that he was wrong, as the U.S. airlines concentrated on good returns to shareholders. So Buffet bought into them in a sizeable way, owning more than 10% of the shares of some of those airlines.

 

However, Buffet has admitted at a BH meeting just gone, that he made a mistake investing in airlines, and it appears that now, he's gone back to his previous position where he regards investment in airlines as poison - certainly for the foreseeable future - say 4 or 5 years.

 

Contrary to Buffets move, some investors are saying that the better U.S. airlines will recover more quickly than expected - even though pax numbers may be considerably lower for quite some time.

 

The advantages of cheap fuel, the deletion of poorly-paying routes, and possibly a bigger selection of newer, cheaper (and more efficient) aircraft, along with a better-than-expected increase in pax numbers, and higher ticket prices, may be the factors these latter investors are looking at favourably.

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I'm with Buffet. Airlines, for the large corporations they often are,, have far too many insolvencies and always have been like that from the start. It was continually understood/ stated without Government contracts they are risky.

Many are Gov't supported ( National Flag Carriers) and you have to compete with those and the corner cutting cost cutting el cheapo scary sometimes ones. People pay extra for good shoes but not for safer airlines. Strangely they buy on price alone in the vast majority of cases with a plane ticket. In these circumstances there is a cost cutting race to the bottom of the barrel where doing it properly is a hazard/barrier to profit and often existence. High cash flows with very low margins are the norm. This is too critical to be safe (economically) as well as from a safety point of view .

.Flying with say 10% empty seats may mean you are losing money every hour you fly and it easily reaches a rate you can't sustain. Cancelling flights to keep passenger load factors up loses passenger support. Over booking the same and it's supposed to be illegal.

Margins are too small and fares are too cheap to do the job properly and run at a profit. No profit and suddenly the show stops. Many airlines were in strife long before this calamity struck. even if seat Kms were increasing overall

While any company is still trading in it's stocks "Investors" will try to pick and ride share price fluctuations relying on the Fear & Greed that powers stock Markets now and always did.. You just don't want to be there when they are liquidated. I wouldn't buy them in the first place . I've seen the Industry from the inside. Nev

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