While it is still early days since the acquisition of UK-headquartered commercial pilot training provider CTC Aviation by L-3 Link Simulation & Training, officials from both companies are already describing the development as a clear “win-win” situation – for themselves and for their airline customers.

“It’s a fast-growing company with a very similar set of values – agility and innovation – and it was a unique opportunity to expand our capabilities,” says L-3 Link Simulation & Training UK managing director Alan Crawford of the purchase.

Made on 27 May, and valued at £143 million ($224 million), it brings together a training organisation with a 25-year pedigree and a supplier of cutting-edge simulators for a wide range of aircraft, including Airbus and Boeing types.

Speaking at L-3 Link’s Crawley site in West Sussex on 22 July, Crawford gave an overview of the work conducted so far to enhance the provision of training for airline pilots.

“Our customers are not interested in buying a simulator and then adding the training on the back-end,” he notes. “Now they have one point of contact for full delivery.”

CTC chief executive Rob Clarke adds: “Increasingly, we’re seeing the airlines coming to us seeking that whole solution.”

CTC already counts operators including British Airways, EasyJet, Flybe, Monarch, Norwegian, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Wizz Air among its customers. It today has facilities in the UK, New Zealand and the USA – where it has an ab initio training school in Phoenix, Arizona – and further sites are likely to follow.

“We are strong in Europe – but now we have the capacity to grow further,” says Clarke, with the Asian and Middle East markets holding particular promise.

CTC currently provides instruction for between 1,500 and 2,000 personnel per year, including roughly 400 cadet pilots, with its services ranging from selection and type-rating, up to command courses for experienced pilots.

Representing about 20% of CTC’s total business, cadet programmes support carriers including BA and Virgin, and for the latter it has recently launched a multi-crew pilot licence (MPL) course for the Airbus A330 – a world first for a widebody type. EasyJet, Flybe and Qatar are among those who also employ the company for the delivery of MPL courses, for types including the A320 and Bombardier Dash 8 Q400.

While none of its MPL students has yet progressed to a command position, Clarke says “the feedback from the airlines has been very positive” about the quality of training delivered through its carrier-specific programmes.

“What we’re about is looking at the industry, and working out what it needs,” he says. “If you can get training right throughout a pilot’s career it brings its own rewards. People want to fly for an [individual] airline – it’s important to have that from early in their training.”

A320 cockpit

The combined group offers multi-crew pilot license courses on a variety of types, including the Airbus A320, with Easyjet and Flybe among its clients

L-3 Link

Growing global demand for air travel means a massive number of new commercial pilots will be required over the next 20 years – the number could be in the region of 558,000, according to a forecast published by Boeing in July. While this represents a recruitment and retention headache for the airlines, it is a terrific opportunity for training providers – and for budding pilots.

But major challenges exist – including the massive cost to individual students of completing an 18- to 24-month MPL course. CTC currently quotes a price of up to £109,000 to become a co-pilot on the A320.

To help with this, Clarke says “two or three” of the company’s current customers are now offering to use their balance sheets to help secure personal loans taken out by prospective future flight crew. It also has begun lobbying the UK government, seeking support for proposals that would offer special VAT concessions to make the cost of training less of a burden, and also to smooth visa processes to make it easier for foreign students to come to the nation to receive their instruction.

“There’s a big demand out there, and we simply don’t have enough people entering the industry,” Clarke notes. Another of the company’s goals, he adds, is to encourage more female students to become pilots, to address a strong gender imbalance in the career.

At L-3 Link’s Crawley simulator site – located a short distance from the runway at London Gatwick airport – one new A320 device went into service in March for BA, certificated under the CTC banner. Another, for the Boeing 737-800, also came on line in early August, to deliver training for Norwegian.

CTC instructors work on both simulators, with students making use of a crew room similar to the one found at its Bournemouth facility in Dorset. Using the devices, they will complete elements in crew resource management, line-orientated flight training and finally upset prevention and recovery training during the MPL course.

737 instructor Brian Brotherly notes that CTC’s syllabus does not involve throwing “worst-case” scenario conditions at students. “We don’t want to overload them – especially at the early stage,” he notes. A two-person crew will typically fly a 4h training flight, having been able from the night before to prepare for it. “It’s hard work,” he notes.

“The simulator training centres are very busy – the next step for us is expansion,” says Crawford. “There are exponential opportunities for growth at both companies,” he adds, with the potential to establish in-country training centres in partnership with individual carriers just one possibility.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic job,” Clarke concludes. “You get the best office in the world, meet the public, travel and are well remunerated.”

Source: Flight International