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British Airways – 800 Pilots During the Next 5 Years, Renewed Interest in Ab Initio

Boeing forecasts a need for 466,650 new pilots and 596,500 maintenance personnel to enter the industry over the next 20 years. According to a crew assessment forecast from Boeing, airlines will need an average of 23,300 new pilots and 30,000 new maintenance personnel per year from 2010 to 2029.

However, there is “no clear, long-term industry standard on how the next pilot generation will be trained to command the large fleet in the manufacturers' orderbooks“, Flight International emphasizes.

British Airways changed its pilot recruitment strategy last August after it foresaw a potential flightcrew shortage. The UK carrier wants to employ about 800 pilots during the next five years. While it needs about 100 new employees per year to maintain its approximately 3,200-strong cockpit workforce, BA wants to employ 150 flightcrew members every year for growth. Half of these recruits should come via direct entry from other airlines and the military, while the other half will be career starters from ab initio level. This is BA's biggest pilot recruitment initiative in more than a decade.

The main difference lies in the renewed interest in ab initio students. BA employed fresh air transport pilot licence (ATPL) holders before, but those graduates had undertaken and financed their training independently and were hired from the open market after qualification.

Airlines, including BA, previously pre-financed the training of a limited number of ab initio students after they had undergone an initial selection process, with the young pilots repaying the fees later during employment. This changed, however, with the aviation downturn after 9/11 and the concurrent rise of budget carriers such as EasyJet and Ryanair, which had always drawn cockpit personnel from the open pilot market. Petteford points out that the shift to this "retail" training model has moved control over cadet enrolment numbers from airlines to individuals.

BA still does not pay for the flight training in three selected academies, but now helps its students secure the required funding by guaranteeing a bank loan. Access to credit has become a main hurdle for pilot aspirants because of the financial crises since 2008, threatening to turn the profession into a career option mainly for children from sufficiently affluent backgrounds. BA worked with banks to devise a loan scheme because it feared the pool of applicants made of the right stuff was becoming too limited.

BA sister carrier Iberia is also recruiting a large number of flightcrew, although this will only be for its planned low-cost subsidiary Iberia Express, due to begin operations with four Airbus A320s at the end of March, which will gradually take over the parent's short- and medium-haul network. While 125 pilots are needed for the start-up phase, this is set to increase as the new airline is scheduled to have 13 aircraft by year-end and 40 by 2015. Iberia has traditionally recruited qualified pilots from a military or civilian background.

A number of flightcrew will transfer to Iberia Express from the parent carrier, which will concentrate exclusively on long-haul flights. The latter's approximately 1,500-strong cockpit workforce will gradually move up the ranks and convert to the A330/A340 fleet as senior flightcrew members retire. However, Iberia has no plans to recruit new pilots for the mainline operations. Whether it will be possible for Iberia Express flightcrew to transfer to the parent carrier is as yet unclear.

Lufthansa expects to take on about 300 new pilots this year. The German airline mainly recruits ab initio cadets who learn their trade at the in-house training campuses in Bremen and Goodyear, Arizona. Only if demand exceeds the available supply of career starters does the airline fall back on direct-entry pilots.


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