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Rise in pay-to-fly pilot numbers raises ECA concerns

Despite years of protest from the pilot community, pay-to-fly schemes are becoming more common, according to the European Cockpit Association. The term refers to a practice whereby inexperienced but licensed pilots who want to gain experience to become more employable pay to act as crew on commercial or business aviation flights.

ECA President Dirk Polloczek explains: “Airlines are constantly reinventing models to get cheaper labour, like hiring self-employed or fake-self-employed pilots, pilots on temporary work agency contracts, or on zero-hours contracts.”

But, he adds, “P2F takes such unacceptable practices to a wholly different level: the employment of young pilots is no longer an investment by the airline in its staff but a simple revenue generator. It is a blunt abuse and exploitation of young, low-hours pilots who are desperate to find a job.”

The issue is becoming more common in the USA where, following a commuter airline accident some years ago, Congress ruled that pilots must have 1,500h of airborne experience before flying for US commercial carriers.

Miami, Florida-based EagleJet International, as one example, has capitalised on the situation by offering low-hour pilots the opportunity to gain 1,000h flying Airbus A320s for an “Asian airline” or others, and charging the pilot for the privilege, with no guarantee of any pay for the work or of a job with the airline at the end of the contract. Now EagleJet is offering European pilots this opportunity for €87,500 ($97,400).

The ECA is worried that the idea is gaining ground with operators in Europe. Secretary general Philip von Schöppenthau says: “P2F provides a perverse incentive for a pilot to fly at any cost. Few will admit it, but when you have paid up to €50,000 to fly this plane, you will think twice before deciding not to fly today because you feel sick or fatigued.”

Aviation authorities say there is no regulation that forbids this, because pilot pay is not within their remit.Polloczek warns low-hour pilots not to take this route, and praises airlines such as EasyJet who have cadetship schemes to enable pilots who might normally be unable to raise the loans to pay for their training to enter the profession.