Job prospects with a Frozen ATPL?
Like everybody else in the same situation as me, I have worked incredibly hard towards the issuance of my ATPL (airline transport pilot licence). It took around 18 months of training, 5 practical tests, 16 written papers, 3 medicals, a couple of hundred hours in the air and more. And it was in November 2010 that I took delivery of my shiny new licence.
Now, however, the novelty has well and truly worn off, and I am starting to wonder if any of us might have lucky breaks in the airline industry any time soon.
Right now, the ratio of pilots to pilot jobs is astounding, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that few of us are going to be employed as professional pilots in the near future. And even though the airline recruitment situation is apparently picking up, those as experienced as myself (not very), are probably in the worst situation right now. The airlines seem to be on the lookout for candidates at the opposite ends of the spectrum; the very experienced and the very inexperienced.
I was amazed that so many people had me in mind when British Airways announced a huge recruitment drive in August. Text messages and emails pointed me in the direction of the airline’s website, and I was quick to get on it to see what everybody was talking about. Somehow, I had managed to overlook one of the biggest news stories at the time – that British Airways were to recruit no less than 800 pilots between now and 2016. At last, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
My excitement was short lived, however, since half of the 800 required pilots were to be recruited straight from school or college and then assisted with their flight training fees thanks to a sponsorship scheme, where successful applicants pay back the exorbitant fees over the first 5-10 years of employment. Whilst this is a fantastic opportunity for those who want to fly but who might never have the chance to do so, it is of no help at all to those the no doubt thousands of us who already have the minimum required qualifications for the right seat.
The most frustrating part of job hunting with the airlines is that there are no application acknowledgements and no rejection letters. You just have to assume that your lengthy application form that took you days to complete has been received by the company. Similarly, when you haven’t heard back after months of waiting, you can work out for yourself that you haven’t been successful – on this occasion.
For anybody considering flight training with a view to one day working as a professional pilot (flying and getting paid for it), take a moment to seriously put things into perspective. Most importantly of all, flying is not cheap, and if you plan to go all the way and study for your ATPLs, the complete cost of training can easily reach £60,000 to £100,000, depending upon where in the world you train. And when the training is out of the way, you have to keep finding more and more money just to keep your currency. It really isn’t as simple as getting a licence and being qualified. In time, your experience and ability to handle an aircraft is going fade, so more time in the air (costing more money) is what you will need.
Consider multi-engine flight training for example, which is about as costly as flying gets. In the UK, a multi-engine aircraft (i.e. a Beechcraft Duchess or a Piper Seneca) can cost in the region of £400 to £450 per hour. On top of that, factor in any fuel surcharges, landings and approach fees and the cost of books and materials necessary to keep you clued up on everything aeronautical. And since instrument ratings and multi-engine ratings under JAA are only valid for 12 months, the cost of renewals can easily total a couple of thousand pounds. This is money that you will need to find on top of the money required for building hours whilst job hunting. Some airlines – such as Flybe – will only consider you as an applicant if you fly 50+ hours a year. Flying a single-engine aircraft, this bill alone can sit at around £8,000 a year.
So, if I were looking at to begin flight training now, would I bother? Probably not. It requires a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and a shed load of money. And as I’ve talked about, you certainly won’t be inundated with employment opportunities at the airlines!