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Meeting the pilots of tomorrow

by Jim McAuslan BALPA General Secretary

Becoming a pilot is a dream harboured from a young age. Boys and girls look to the sky and resolve that, one day, they will be at the controls of that plane. It’s a calling, and the British Airline Pilots’ Association’s aim is to ensure it remains a great profession.

That’s why it’s so good to meet people at events like Pilot Careers Live. Last weekend I was able to meet tomorrow’s pilots face to face and to talk to them about their dreams, whilst keeping their feet firmly on the ground. And it was gratifying to hear mums and dads appreciate the cautionary tone of the BALPA message
One important piece of advice I give to aspiring pilots is that it's a great job, but it is not an easy path to follow. People hoping to become a pilot need to be realistic about the challenges they will face and listen to the wisdom of current pilots; 98% of whom are proud of their profession but only 61% recommending it as a career. Fatigue, a family unfriendly lifestyle and a feeling of remoteness from those leading their airline being high on the downsides of the job.
Nor is a dream enough because not everyone is cut out to be a modern pilot; nor is being a wiz at flight simulator a substitute for the resilience, people skills, flexibility and toughness of character that are needed for those who really have what it takes.
A huge issue for many of the people I met at Pilot Careers Live, is how to fund their training. We would all love to get airlines to better support the cost, and we are lobbying to get the Government's apprenticeship levy to help here, but realistically aspiring pilots (and more often than not this means Mum and Dad) will have to stump up £94,000 pounds for the basic licence with a further £35,000 to get type rated.

Yes, it's a good time to be coming into the profession with a huge amount of recruitment underway, but don't rely on it – whatever the Boeing projections say. I likened it to the Saturday evening journey home on the M25 which is going swimmingly at 70 mph only to come to a compete stop for no apparent reason. So you need to be prepared for the immediate pay back not living up to expectations and do your spread-sheet over a longer period.

A question at the busy BALPA stall at the weekend conference was which route to follow – integrated or modular, or, as some would have it, 'oven ready or organic'. I chaired a panel discussion represented by both sides of the debate to explore this and the key issues were personal finances (the modular route will be cheaper) versus likelihood of a quick route into a paid job (integrated wins here). What stood out though was the resilience of each of the two trainee pilots on the panel – Dale Mudie on the modular route being funded by holding down a job as a police constable, and mother of two Ruth Thomson on the integrated route and about to start at Aer Lingus.

BALPA is reaching out to these people through our free nextGen Associate Membership category, helping them organise in their training schools and giving them a voice. Plus the support of our company councils who are negotiating a brake on the erosion of new starters' terms and conditions and using the more benign negotiating climate to make a go of getting the genie of second class employment back in the bottle.

A well paid pilot with a stable roster and whose views are listened to is a safe pilot. As I leave my role as BALPA General Secretary it is a reassurance that the likes of Dale and Ruth will be flying passengers safely into my dotage and that BALPA is active in keeping the profession's foundation strong.