As the years slip by time speeds up, we must all be aware of that, even if we haven’t seen it. One of the things this allows you to do as you get more ‘senior’ is look back on the way the fate and opportunity’s cards fell for you, how you played them. What you can’t see of course is how the deck is stacked or where sleight of hand bent your fortune. On our way across our blue planet’s Atlantic Ocean a tale was recounted to me, one perhaps all to familiar to many of the way new entrants are being ‘assisted’ into our ranks. I refer of course to professional aviation and I reflect on my good fortune as I write of this tawdry situation.
Flight training for a professional licence has always been expensive, scrape together the £100k (US $162k) and you are well on your way, the extras, like many things in life and if you are being honest with your calculator, can double that figure as you ride from tyro into the right had seat of a Boeing or an Airbus of any size. How then should we regard those training organizations who ‘facilitate’ the transition from their light twins into the airline system?
This story has left me looking between the two with a bad taste in my mouth sweetened just a little by pragmatism. It seems that having paid for your licence the training organisations (nameless here) then cherry pick the sharper candidates after they have completed a jet transition course of sorts, then have them pay for a type rating. They are then placed with an airline as the result of a beneficial relationship, you decide who is the comfortable party.
Our hero is of course delighted because he has his first flying job – he’s made it! He doesn’t get paid that much of course because this is where the ‘arrangement’ extracts a further ‘fee’. Our now type rated and checked 737/319 driver receives let’s say £1200/month for his labour with the ‘intermediary taking around £4k from the host carrier – the employer. How do you live on that figure in today’s Britain let alone pay interest on a burden of cash debt? Who has these numbers in their account to be invested in a flying career – few I would suggest.
This might be acceptable should it last a while then cease, but the engineers of this arrangement have cooked up a variation on the theme that in my opinion does the dirty on their protegé. Our First Officer has a job for a season, one season and is then laid off to await another opportunity. Another candidate then arrives on the scene bearing a remarkable resemblance to the first, and cycles through the next season cascading cash into the bank account of the training organisation and benefiting the airline to the tune of a few ‘k’ each month.
The first guy on the scene is told at the end of his first season that, ‘times are hard, no jobs yet but we’ll keep you on file.’ The second is told the same story as the first, ‘well, you pays your money and takes your chance, it’s worth it in the end’. Guess what happens at the end of the season – a bounteous cycle?
Why? Well, the contract between the airline and the training organisation states that the arrangement lasts only for one season (or something like that) who gets to read these things? But like a Black Hole in the Universe, we know it exists even though we can’t see it – the evidence is there pointing to its existance.
This might be acceptable if the jet transition training and type rating were subsidized and the effects would be buried if we had some movement in the industry and pilots were being employed in the large numbers that we are told they soon be or are being. But we are sitting under a dark cloud at the moment with little improvement being touted in the forecast.
So, exploitation or opportunity – you pays your money and takes your chance but I am thinking that we need some protections in place here to jam a stopper in the former and introduce a measure of balance. Debts like these can take a whole career to get rid of as they grow, ask the Greeks.
There are doubtless three sides to this story but I recount another tale, the reverse side of the coin.
If we treat people in this way we can expect a whirlwind to follow when the balance of advantage changes in favour of the employee. One (nameless) airline in the Far East treated its pilots very poorly over its short new life. This was allegedly inspired by aggressive management policies. As soon as hiring started ‘next door’ hundreds decided to seek a better life and left, virtually overnight the airline couldn’t meet it schedules and had a massive training bill to pay. One such airline has a similar problem today in Europe and for some reason has difficulty finding replacement aviators to fill its seats. Wouldn’t we all prefer a better way?
This isn’t Obama or McCain, and that isn’t a chicken, it’s a Hawk.