Virgin Australia’s latest batch of pilot cadets has graduated and will shortly begin flying the airline’s ATR 72 turboprops and Boeing 777-300ER widebodies as First and Second Officers.
The airline’s advanced pilot cadets completed the 22-week course run by Flight Training Adelaide in South Australia.
Meanwhile, those completing the ab initio course, which is designed for those without any previous flying experience, were due to graduate in November, Virgin Australia said on Friday.
The airline has had a pilot cadet program since 2012, with this latest intake the first time it has offered both advanced and ab initio pilot cadetships simultaneously.
VIDEO: A May 2017 video on Virgin Australia’s pilot cadet program on the airline’s YouTube channel.
Virgin Australia director of group flight operations Stuart Aggs said the move to run the two different entry streams was “designed to widen the opportunities for our cadetship program”.
“I’m very pleased that our 2017 class of advanced cadets will now take to the skies as certified First and Second Officers,” Aggs said in a statement.
“Our ab initio course is still underway with those cadets due to graduate in November and we look forward to them joining our pilot group.”
The Boeing 2017-2036 Pilot and Technician Outlook, published in July 2017, showed there is a need for 637,000 new commercial airline pilots, 648,000 airline maintenance technicians and 839,000 new cabin crew members around the world over the next two decades.
The Asia Pacific would comprise the largest source of demand with 40 per cent of new pilots, 39 per cent of technicians and 37 per cent of cabin crew to be recruited in the region between now and 2036.
Virgin Australia group executive for airlines Rob Sharp said recently pilot recruitment was a “significant area of focus”.
“It’s been an interesting dynamic,” Sharp told delegates at the Routes Asia 2018 conference in Brisbane on Monday, in response to a question.
“We’ve been talking about it for about five years that I can recollect that as the Middle Eastern carriers and the Chinese carriers grow they are looking to secure pilots and they have been doing that.
“Also, there has been a dynamic as new aircraft types come, in pilots like the new toys and they go for those jobs and then there is a cascade of training that occurs.
“So it puts a lot of pressure on training organisations because you are effectively backfilling and then bringing in new pilots. For us, we ramped up our cadet program. It has been very, very successful.”
— Australian Aviation (@AusAviation) March 18, 2018
Sharp said the industry needed to communicate to high schools and universities about the advantages and “enjoyment” of being a pilot, noting the “newer generation is not necessarily seeing 40 years as a pilot as being attractive”.
Further, this type of activity was also needed to encourage more women to pursue a career in aviation.
“Our pilot ratio is also largely male,” Sharp said.
“We’ve got a growing portion that’s female but I personally believe that same activity in terms of promoting is something we need to also do with the females so that they come through.
“In fact we think our cadet program next year will have a 50-50 balance there in terms of gender, which is great.”
Sharp said the company had “invested heavily in our in-house training capabilities”.
“So you can flex the training if the demand is needed,” Sharp said.
“And our brand is very attractive. We can get a lot of people wanting to work for us and so we are fortunate in that that challenger brand and the legacy that is Virgin does attract people.
“We will obviously be leveraging that as part of the process of promoting our wares.”
The topic of pilot recruitment has been in the news in 2018, after the federal government moved to again allow foreign pilots to work in Australia.
Pilots have been added back onto the list of applicable occupations for temporary skilled worker visas, valid for two-years.
Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) chief executive Mike Higgins said recently having overseas pilots able to be employed on temporary skilled worker visas would allow airlines, particular smaller operators, to bring experienced pilots into the country as cover for the exodus of Australian Captains to overseas carriers.
Further, Higgins said it was not being used as a source of pilots for normal crewing.
“We are not relying on the import of foreign captains forever and into the future, it is just so we can get these first officers trained up to take their place,” Higgins said in the March 2018 issue of Australian Aviation.
“We still have sufficient numbers of right-hand seat qualified pilots.
In February, Qantas said it planned establish a new pilot training academy with the capacity to train up to 500 pilots a year.
To be called the Qantas Group Pilot Academy, the school would open its doors in 2019 and be initially for direct entry cadets joining the Qantas Group, including Jetstar and QantasLink.
The academy would initially train about 100 pilots a year, which could grow to 500 pilots a year on a fee for service basis depending on demand from other parts of the industry.
Any takers? ? ? pic.twitter.com/Y91nlobZSG
— Owen Zupp. Author. (@owenzupp) March 22, 2018
In addition to Virgin Australia’s cadet program, the airline has also been retraining existing pilots onto new aircraft types, following the withdrawal of the 18 Embraer E190s from the fleet and reduction of ATR 72-500/600 aircraft.