Airbus is eyeing Asia-Pacific as the next priority territory for its fledgling network of schools, to offer ab initio flight training, as the manufacturer seeks to improve standards and boost numbers of newly trained pilots.

The ab initio programme was added to Airbus's portfolio of training services as a means of helping to meet demand for new pilots. It currently has two schools: one in Mexico and one in France.

With travel demand rising and fleets expanding, Airbus predicts that 540,000 new pilots will need to be trained worldwide over the next 20 years, including some 219,000 in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We are seeing aviation growth in Asia in particular, so our next target for a school will probably be within the Asia-Pacific region," says Jean-Michel Bigarre, head of worldwide flight training at Airbus.

The number of ab initio sites could increase to three next year and then five from 2021, Bigarre expects. Those numbers are not set in stone, however, because Airbus wants to ensure a "prudent approach" to get the right quality.

Consistency across the world is what Airbus hopes to bring to the pilot-training industry with its network of schools.

"We want to use Airbus flight training to continuously improve standards," says Bigarre.

"The programme will be deployed across the world so when we speak about pilot competencies, we will be speaking about the same competencies everywhere in the world. Our goal is to have safer and more efficient transportation, on Airbus aircraft of course." The ab initio programme was developed with ENAC, the French national academy for civil aviation.

Bigarre says the challenges included recruiting the right number of instructors and ensuring that they were all trained to the same standard as well.

"The paradigm of the industry needing pilots but being short of instructors because they are going to the airlines is something we are working on," he says. "Up until now, when you started to work as an instructor, you lost your seniority. We want the instructor career path to instead become an added value for pilots."

Airbus currently has 20 instructors working on its ab initio programme. There are around 50 students at the two schools at present, but Airbus wants each school to be able to train around 150 cadet pilots per year.

Another issue for the pilot-training industry is ensuring that cadets have access to financing for their training, in order to give a wider pool of candidates. Some European airlines have recently started to offer funded or pre-funded courses in partnership with schools, such as Air France or Luxair, in order to secure their pilot requirements.

Bigarre says Airbus is pricing its integrated ab initio courses in line with the local markets. In Europe, the cost of the course – including JOC/MCC (jet orientation and multi crew co-operation) – amounts to around €100,000 ($110,000), while in Mexico the initial phase is $50,000.

Airbus has arrangements in place with banks for finance and is discussing funding with airlines.

"We hope to announce a partnership with an airline before the end of the year," says Bigarre.

Because cadets are trained to a high quality and given help to find jobs, there is reduced risk for the banks when providing finance. A rigorous pre-screening system is also in place, including maths and English tests, onsite aptitude tests, personality tests, group exercises and simulator assessments.

"This ensures that before cadets invest their money, we are 99% sure they will succeed," says Bigarre.

"What you want from pilots is the right airmanship, the right attitude, the right knowledge. We address all this."

Source: Cirium Dashboard