Flybe will be the first UK airline to train pilots to the MPL

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Europe's largest regional airline, UK-based Flybe, is going to become the first UK carrier to train ab initio pilots to the new multi-crew pilot licence (MPL), the company's general manager training Brian Watt revealed at the Royal Aeronautical Society's 25-25 September Flight Crew Training Conference in London.

Training will begin in February next year, says Watt, and the airline is already working with a flight training organisation (FTO) to set up an MPL syllabus and training programme - but he will not reveal yet which FTOs he has approached. Watt says Flybe has always been one of the UK's most consistent recruiters of ab initio, rather than direct entry, pilots, and it finds this suits it best.

And Flybe needs pilots. The carrier, which recently released annual and first quarter results that show it is bucking all the industry trends by reporting extremely healthy growth - pre-tax earnings for the April-June quarter were 14% up at £12.2 million ($22.4 million) and passenger numbers rose by 18%

Watt says the carrier sees the MPL as providing precisely what it needs: first officers prepared from the private pilot licence stage of their training specifically to operate as airline pilots for the kind of network it operates.

By the time the new trainees reach line flying, Flybe will be operating a fleet consisting mostly of Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 twin turboprops, with a growing number of Embraer 195s. It has been phasing out its BAE Systems BAe 146 series fleet, and will be retiring its Embraer 145s, says Watt.

The only European-trained MPL pilots - trained by Denmark's Center Air Pilot Academy for Sterling Airways - were made redundant recently when the economic downturn forced Sterling to retrench, creating pilot redundancies from the bottom of its seniority list.