Sterling dumps MPL pilots as downturn bites

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Danish multi-crew pilot licence pioneer Sterling Airlines has dismissed the world's first nine MPL crew members to have reached line flying, as part of cutbacks forced by high fuel prices and the economic downturn.

The dismissal had nothing to do with the pilots' skills, the airline confirms, but the carrier was applying the 'last-in, first-out' principle that most operators employ when faced with the need for redundancies.

The Danish carrier, which has laid off 61 employees, says it is working hard to find other placements for all its redundant pilots, but admits that the MPL first officers have a particular problem in finding alternative jobs because they were trained specifically to Sterling standard operating procedures and have a licence of which other airlines have no experience.

The first four MPL first officers began line flying in October last year having graduated from Denmark's Center Air Pilot Academy and completed type rating training with Sterling. Sterling's chief training pilot, Capt Per Lilja, says they had completed line acceptance flying from the carrier's Oslo base within 22 days having flown 49 sectors, and had coped well with winter operating conditions.

The academy's type rating training instructor for the MPL course, Capt Jens Frost, says the redundant MPL pilots could work for another airline following an operator conversion course - a normal practice to familiarise any pilot with an airline's standard operating procedures - but the lack of familiarity by other airlines with the MPL concept is proving an obstacle in practice.

Frost admits that one of the options the MPL first officers are having to consider is converting their MPL to a traditional commercial pilot licence and instrument rating (CPL/IR), which would entail gaining 30h more time as pilot in command, and about 15h flying in a Piper Arrow or similar type to prepare for the single-pilot skill tests that the CPL/IR demands.

Frost says there are, at present, practically no single-pilot commercial jobs, but at least the pilots would have gained a qualification with which airlines are familiar.