Last month NZALPA made some pleasing inroads to address the pilot supply issue New Zealand currently faces. Media interest has continued this month and we’ve been very clear that this is about supply, not a shortage of current pilots willing and able to work for commercial airlines.
To those outside the industry who consider a solution would be to look internationally to meet current and future needs, this may sound like semantics. However, this is an important distinction as there is no current shortage of those wanting to work, an importantly, train in New Zealand for an aviation career. It’s the financial and structural barriers that exist which are threatening the sustainability of pilot supply.
As discussed in the July Uplink, airlines such as Air New Zealand and Jetstar New Zealand have begun to recognise this need. Planning to meet near future requirements must now also be addressed, especially as the burgeoning travel industry shows no signs of abating. NZALPA have been publicly calling for this to happen over the last two year.
This wasn’t the case during the global financial crisis when the Government of New Zealand's training and education policies to meet local aviation industry needs were amended. Yet these policies are still in place today. This is why, despite the huge growth in aviation and travel over the last 10 years, only 450 full time student loans (both Fixed wing and Helicopter) can be drawn down annually by aviation students. With around a $40,000 limit paid per loan, the average pilot requires 2.4 loans to complete training through to a CPL/MEIR. A graduate needs to self-fund the remaining number of flying hours required – a luxury many cannot afford.
To meet both flying hour experience and student debt repayments many new pilots head offshore. Others sadly leave the industry through disillusionment in their inability to build their flying hours or cope financially on low initial wages and high debt levels. This means that once retirement roles are also filled, it leaves about 80 new commercial pilots entering the industry annually. But to sustain current industry growth in the medium term, we need over triple this number, approximately 250-300 pilots trained per year.
This will mean updating the numbers of student loans available to allow at least 600 for trainee pilots to attend New Zealand’s flying schools. An increase in the quantum of the student loan would also see a greater uptake of promising trainees who could not normally afford the additional training costs under the current funding regime. For those going onto entry level career positions, we also want to work with industry to increase wage levels so that pilots can better repay debt and still afford to pay their normal day-to-day bills – a major cause of stress.
Overall, the growth rate in aviation graduate numbers is about 2-3% of the total number of commercial pilots in New Zealand. This pales in comparison to around 10% which the international and domestic airlines are experiencing in this prolonged and impressive growth cycle. A major driver for Air New Zealand includes the new routes it has opened up throughout the Americas and Asia, necessitated by increased consumer demand.
NZALPA is directly working with Air New Zealand to get a Career Pathways programme off the ground, which will see promising graduates enter directly into the airline from their PFTO flight schools operating across New Zealand (including Invercargill, Christchurch, Nelson and Massey Aviation in Palmerston North). Massey has also linked up with Jetstar New Zealand to provide a similar career pathway option where new pilot graduates can move onto a Q300 First Officer position with Jetstar Regional. Both these exciting new career pathway options will give pilot graduates more security of employment and provide better career transparency as they enter the industry.
Ultimately, if these government funding requirements and the career pathway programmes operate successfully, it will reverberate into the supply chain for smaller aviation operations across the country. This would meet both industry need and offer further alternative options for students.
Another spinoff will not only train our future pilots in our unique and challenging geographic and climatic conditions, but will also keep our talent in New Zealand longer. Commercial airline pilots in this country operate under some of the fairer industrial relations formats globally, whereas for many others, atypical employment contracts and career uncertainty are becoming the norm rather than the exception. As well as working under more stable conditions New Zealand continues to offer a desirable lifestyle and a great place to bring up a family.
If New Zealand can offer better aviation training, under a more accessible training model, this bodes well for a sustainable future for more than just our industry.
Have a safe month.