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Students? Apprentices? Customers? The challenge in defining what a trainee pilot is

by Wendy Pursey Head of Membership and Career Services

As part of National Apprenticeship Week, BALPA is challenging the aviation industry to find ways to roll out pilot apprenticeships in a bid to remove the financial barrier to pilot training which puts off those from less affluent backgrounds. In this blog Wendy Pursey examines the challenge:

What is a trainee pilot?

It may seem a strange question, but it is in some ways, difficult to answer. You may assume a trainee pilot is much like any other student. The reality is very different. Unlike those who choose university as their higher education path, those who train to be a pilot are not classed as ‘students’ in the same way, for example trainee pilots are not entitled to student loans.

At the same time trainee pilots are also not employed pilots. Gone are the days when airlines would recruit potential pilots and subsidise their training.  These days those aspiring for a career in the skies have to pay their own away when it comes to flight training, and that can cost up to £130,000. In fact many of those undertaking modular training have other jobs to fund their courses.

Essentially these days trainee pilots are consumers. Training schools compete to attract ‘customers’ who pay to be trained. Many have excellent marketing, sparkling brochures that tell of amazing facilities, modern aircraft and high success in graduates finding a job. It is important for those who are considering embarking on pilot training to understand that trainings schools are commercial outfits that make a profit from your business. You must understand what you are signing up to before you commit.

What about apprenticeships?

BALPA has been looking at apprenticeships as a potential way to help open up piloting to a wider range of people. We have already helped establish the first ever apprenticeship standard for commercial airline pilots in the UK. But, a year on, we are still yet to see airlines take up this opportunity. Work is ongoing with BALPA, the Aviation Industry Skills Board, Government and airlines, to find solutions that will make this option more practicable.

For now, trainee pilots still fall between the cracks when it comes to help financing their training. But BALPA is continuing to fight their corner and urging the industry as whole to recognise the opportunity apprenticeships offer.