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At last, some good news on training costs: pilot apprenticeships

by Wendy Pursey Head of Membership and Career Services

In the past, apprenticeships have been viewed as most suited to construction roles: electricians, bricklaying, plumbing, for example. They provided a stepping stone between education and the workplace for those not wishing to spend more years in full time higher education, but still wanting a vocation rather than ‘just a job’. However, the landscape of apprenticeships has been changing in recent years. Perhaps as a result of extortionate university fees, with universities charging up to an eye-watering £9,250 per year, more young people have been looking to apprenticeships as a middle ground. All sorts of career paths can now be taken this way, including positions in IT, banking and business. 

But what about pilots? Forget university fees, training to be a pilot is one of the most expensive professions one can study, with newly-qualified pilots sometimes coming out with over £100,000 of debt. And that’s before they’ve paid for a type-rating. The cost has been soaring for many years and pretty much all of this is to be paid by the trainee rather than the airline, as was the standard historically.  The financial burden has led many would-be pilots to leave their dreams behind. Could apprenticeships for pilots be the answer? A specialist sub-group of the Aviation Industry Skills Board, chaired by TUI UK & Ireland and managed by People 1st is looking to do just that. 

Pilot apprentices

The industry-first commercial airline pilot standard, approved for development by the Department for Education, is being supported by leading aviation employers, such as Monarch, British Airways, Loganair, Thomas Cook, BMI Regional, Virgin Atlantic, DHL and Flybe. The standard also has backing from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, the Civil Aviation Authority, and, of course, BALPA. 

It is estimated that the total saving for a trainee pilot going through and apprenticeship could be up to £27,000 of their total costs – that’s a pretty sizeable chunk. So how are airlines going to afford this? As of May 2017, all UK-operating businesses (not just in aviation) with a payroll above £3 million a year, of which there are many, will be required to pay a levy of 0.5% of their payroll costs. Some of this money can then be recuperated if the employer adopts an apprenticeship scheme. 

The next stage 

An expression of interest to develop an apprenticeship standard for commercial airline pilots was submitted to the Department of Education in October 2016 and received formal approval from the DfE to proceed in February this year. The standards should take a year to develop and will include the learning modules and pathway to being a qualified pilot. This will then be finalised before becoming available to aspiring pilots in 2018. We will bring more information as this develops.