The COVID-19 pandemic has left some pilots with debts reaching upwards of £100,000, with minimal governmental support for the aviation industry
Did you know that it can cost upwards of £100,000 to become a commercial airline pilot? And unlike university degrees there are no “easy” student loans available for those wishing for a career in the skies. Instead, prospective pilots need to fund their training themselves. Flying Time Aviation (FTA) suggests six options: (1) professional and career development loans; (2) secured loans; (3) flight training finance specialists; (4) savings; (5) the bank of mum and dad; or (6) to pay in instalments. All of these options have one thing in common: they require you to either have access to thousands of pounds off the bat or require you to take out a loan which you are then required to pay back. And unlike the traditional student loan, there are no options to only pay the money back if you are earning above a certain threshold; you are required to pay back your loan no matter what.
“But all pilots are rich anyway, they’ll pay it back quickly” I can already hear you say. It is a common stereotype that all pilots are well-off, and although this may have been the case once upon a time, it is no longer true. According to prospects.ac.uk, the starting salary of a newly qualified first officer (FO) is around £28,000 – and that’s in larger companies. Pilots know all of this going in, but up until recently it was deemed a relatively safe industry to go into if your dream was to fly planes commercially. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), recent estimates suggested that demand for air transport would increase by an average of 4.3% per year over the next 20 years. These figures have lead pilots and airlines alike to believe there would always be a job for them – but this was before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, even the UK’s pilots union Balpa is warning prospective pilots from starting any training courses, due to the huge debts and no prospect of employment.
Pilots from multiple large airlines have been made redundant due to COVID-19, but many still have these large debts of tens of thousands of pounds to pay off, and the demand for pilots just isn’t there. Where there are jobs, experienced pilots may be favoured by employers, leaving more severely indebted juniors at the bottom of the job market. These pilots have debts up to over £100,000 which need to be paid off, job or no job.