Regional Express (Rex) is launching a cadet pilot training programme, a first for the Australian regional carrier which until now has generally recruited cockpit crew that already have a commercial pilot’s licence.

The eight-month cadet programme starts later this year and the initial intake will be 20 students, although each year the carrier hopes to train 40 new pilots, a Rex spokesman says from Sydney.

He says the cost of training is A$80,000 ($71,000) per head but the airline is offering to cover half as long as cadets stay on with the company after graduation.

The spokesman declines to reveal which flying school the cadets will be sent to for ab initio training but says the training will be done in Australia and Rex has earmarked two flying schools.

"Rex recognises that the high cost of flying training is a major obstacle to many young people who desire to make a career in the sky [so] we are prepared to assist with the cost of training so that a commercial pilot’s licence is within reach of many who would otherwise be unable to afford it," Rex chief of staff Jim Davis says in a statement.

He says each cadet will be given a A$40,000 loan to cover up to 50% of the cost of the training but in return "the cadets will have to commit to staying with Rex for six years".

Those that complete the cadet programme will receive a commercial pilot’s licence with a command instrument rating and multi-engine endorsement and each will be given a job at either Rex mainline or one of the airline’s subsidiary carriers such as Airlink or Pel-Air.

Rex is Australia’s largest independently owned regional carrier and it operates Saab 340s. Pel-Air operates types such as Fairchild Metroliners and Israel Aerospace Westwinds and Airlink is a relatively small airline that operates Raytheon Beech 1900s and Cessna aircraft.

Rex, like many carriers in Australia, has traditionally only employed pilots that already have licences but Rex needs to increase its pilot numbers because it is expanding its operations.