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Report Finds Serious Shake-Up Needed in Aviation Training

8 January 2019

New Zealand’s approach to pilot training and career progression needs a shake-up if its going to meet burgeoning demand and continue the industry’s significant contribution to our economy, a pivotal study has found.

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association and Massey University School of Aviation recently completed the initial report of their study “Pilot Progression in New Zealand”. 


NZALPA has begun discussing the findings with airlines, government ministers, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and wider industry stakeholders.


The study focused on New Zealanders, including permanent residents, who received their fixed wing New Zealand Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) between 2000 and 2018. More than 700 pilots took part in the study, from New Zealand and overseas. 

According to the report, many recent CPL graduates gave up flying because they couldn’t get the entry level positions needed to build up their flying hours to levels required for airline jobs (the goal of more than two thirds of those surveyed).


“The overall number of professional pilots in New Zealand is about the same as it was 20 years ago,” said NZALPA President, Tim Robinson. “This is despite more pilots being trained in response to industry demand.


“Local airlines say they have trouble recruiting enough qualified pilots; and the pilots say they can’t get the jobs they need to get the experience to apply for an airline position.


“What’s not working well is the bit in between - recent graduates cannot get the experience they need,” Robinson said.


Less than half of the survey respondents found work as a pilot within a year of qualifying; with slightly more saying they’d considered giving up their aviation career plans – which would leave them with a large debt and the industry with a loss of potential. 

Around a third of respondents went overseas to get work experience - and many don’t return. 


“A considerable issue is that many of the jobs that used to be available for low hour pilots have moved to more sophisticated aircraft or helicopters – shutting out new graduates. 


“The most successful path to employment now is flight instructing, with experienced flying instructors quickly snapped up by the airlines.


“We need to make sure the industry retains these newly graduated pilots, making clearer pathways for them to move into roles where they can get the experience the industry needs.  If they need to go offshore to get work, there is always a risk they may not return and are lost to our local industry.”


Another recommendation from the report is the creation of airline cadet training programmes that would recruit directly from flight training.  Airlines and the CAA would need to design and specify airline-specific training for those pilots. 


Other recommendations include industry-wide promotion of aviation careers to create a larger pool from which to select the best candidates; government and industry steps to reduce the cost of flight training; changes to aviation student loans and deferral of interest on student loans where pilots have to find work overseas; recognition of flight instruction as a valuable part of the aviation industry with better pay and conditions; and joint industry and government data collection and analysis to inform funding, training and recruiting decisions. 


“The cost of flight training is a major issue, particularly since changes to the student loan scheme for aviation courses came in to affect about 10 years ago,” said Robinson.


“Previously students could borrow the total cost of their flight training; now there are caps on borrowing. These changes were specifically intended back in 2008 to reduce the costs to government and reduce demand for flight training.”


NZALPA and other aviation industry groups now want the Government to reconsider this policy in light of the strong demand for pilots. The current situation limits who can take on the expense and prevents a more diverse range of candidates from considering flight training.


“Many doctors and dentists graduate with large student loans, but the difference is that they are usually directly employed at the end of their training without the need to self-fund hundreds of contact hours like pilots require.


“Most pilots have to get those hours up while working other jobs at the same time to pay their bills and trying to service their student loan.


“Government, industry and unions like ourselves need to work together to find solutions to this dilemma.


“This study is a very significant development in a fast-developing industry. We all need to take the time to read it carefully and think about changes that we could support or help to make.”


Report can be found at:


Media contact:  Lisa-Marie Richan +64 27 278 0441

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