It can’t be that bad: BA is recruiting again


The last time British Airways offered wannabe pilots the chance to train for a job with the company was before 9/11.

Between now and 2016, says BA head of recruitment Robin Glover, the airline needs 800 new pilots, about half of which will be newly trained. The balance will come from other carriers and the military.

This time BA is not laying out a penny toward the trainees’ courses in its Future Pilot Programme, but it will guarantee their loans for training, which means they will definitely be able to get finance. Glover says that, since the credit crunch, only rich students have been able to raise finance, so the airlines have been fishing in a small pond. This move widens the field.

Of course the risk to BA of guaranteeing a loan is practically zero, because by the time the airline provides the guarantee the student will have gone through aptitude tests and begun the course, and the flying training organisation (FTO) can tell pretty early on which trainees are the right stuff and which will struggle.

BA also requires the student to pay for his/her own type rating on the aircraft s/he will fly in service, and does not pay the trainee during it. In Glover’s words, that cost is “part of the training package” for which the finance is raised. But, he says, BA’s type rating is charged at cost, and as soon as the pilot successfully completes it, the pay cheque arrives. 

While BA’s offer doesn’t exactly sound like a testament to its belief in investing in its future employees, it’s a better deal than the shoddy way that Ryanair and Easyjet recruit. They flaunt the prospect of a job, but it’s not a promise; the FTO helps the student find finance, the student pays for the type rating at a commercial (rather than cost) rate, then the recruit works the line unpaid until line acceptance checks are complete. If flying’s slow, that can be six months or more.

The arrival of BA back on the scene means the others will be fishing in a smaller pool, and they can guarantee they won’t be the destination of choice any more in the UK market, so they will get more of the strugglers.

In the next few years we are going to see what market forces do to pilot recruitment mores. Airlines are expanding slowly but relentlessly, and the world fleet likewise. Even a relatively desirable employer like BA may struggle to get the combination of numbers and quality it has always assumed was its birthright.

After all, when they join the line, BA recruits will be paying back their university loan (£30,000 maybe?), and their £100,000-odd pilot training loan, so how much of their pay will be left for living? Does that sound like a choice that large numbers of bright young people will be making?

Let’s watch the market forces at work.


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6 Responses to It can’t be that bad: BA is recruiting again

  1. jonathan curd 17 August, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    easyJet and Ryanair should not feel threatened by this.

    Unfortunately there will always be wannabes willing to get themselves into incredible debt at others expense to achieve this.

  2. Andrew 17 August, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    They won’t have a problem, being a pilot is still a very attractive job. The type of young person they are trying to recruit isn’t encumbered with family or mortgage and has a whole career to pay back the loan. Doctors, dentists, architects, lawyers etc. all have to pay for their own basic training, why not pilots?

  3. Michael Johnson 19 August, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    It’s great to see another major air carrier forecasting a demand for additional pilots. We have seen a tremendous surge globally in demand over the past 15-18 months following an almost complete silence in demand for pilots in 2008-2009. However, there are a few interesting factors that will play into the market dynamics for BA’s tactic: 1. Demand for pilots, at all levels, is on the rise, and 2. As a result of increased demand, pilots will continue have more options and many – if not most – airlines are not requiring pilots to pay for their own training. BA will have to face the reality that they must be responsible for the financial burden of training their new pilots. The offset is that they must offer financial packages lucrative enough to lure already rated pilots away from their current positions- thus giving up any company seniority – to start anew at BA. My prediction is that BA will have to modify their plan to fill these slots.

  4. Robert 22 August, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    Whilst the move from BA is to be welcomed it’s still a far cry from the days when myself and others went through the College of Air Training at Hamble in the 1960s/1970s when we didn’t have the burden of a huge loan round our necks.

    There was an obligation to pay back £1,000 over the first five years of our employment (taken out of salary on a monthly basis, interest free) and repay any outstanding amount if you left before the 5 years was up.

    You certainly didn’t have to pay for the type conversion and you were paid whilst doing same.

    So whilst I applaud BA for taking a step in the right direction please let’s don’t kid ourselves that this is really that generous – compared to the Halcyon days of Hamble it isn’t.

  5. ekranoplan 6 September, 2011 at 10:45 am #


    Dentists and Doctors do not pay beyond getting their practice certificate – just as pilots up till the late 1990s. Now the airlines want you to pay for the type of aeroplane you fly not just the CAA licence, in addition there are several that charge you to fly passengers for up to 500h (extra £30k). This is called P2F – Pay to Fly. In the meantime the First officers employees of that airline are grounded and unable to build experience to become captains because every 6 months a new P2F cadet comes along (the former ones are often let go).

    How many Doctors pay beyond their official education to work in a hospital for 6 months and are then let go to the dole queue and unable to work elsewhere because of low experience? How many Dentists pay to operate new equipment and get a licence for that that only lasts 6 months before they pay again to renew it?

  6. ecojet 6 September, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    BA doesn’t want experienced pilots who have worked their way up the ranks of GA Instructing and Turbo-props. You have to either have lots of heavy (>10 tonnes) experience or be type rated with at least 500h on type or Military with 1000h on Mil a/c.