THE stiff cost of training Airbus-grade pilots for at least $30,000 for a 40-day course has forced Asia’s largest low-cost carrier, Cebu Pacific, to scout for trainable pilots from abroad, preferably Europe.
In fact, its training facility in Clark called the Philippine Academy for Aviation Training (PAAT), a joint venture between Cebu Pacific and CAE of Canada, the global supplier of Airbus simulators, syllabi and training materials, has been “graduating” European and Asian pilots since its inauguration by President Benigno Aquino 3rd on December 3, 2012.
In September, the first batch of trainees, 11 of them foreigners, finished their basic Airbus rating and were hired by Cebu Pacific as first officers to gain actual flight experience, and then train further for upgrading to flight captain.
Earlier reports said that the Gokongwei-owned airline has tapped two aviation recruitment companies—Ryan Aviation and Contractair—to screen candidates for captain and first officer positions for immediate hiring for its present and coming Airbus A330 long-range planes.
The reports added that Cebu Pacific has 45 regular foreign pilots, less than 10 percent of its flight crew.
The company has been employing foreign pilots since 2011 when it began expanding after flying over 10 million people in 2010. The new hires are for the A320 fleet for local and regional flights.
Contractair is said to be advertising for an indefinite number of A320 captains for immediate and permanent deployment, with the foreign pilots getting similar pay and benefits as the local pilots for posting in Manila, Cebu, Clark, Iloilo and Kalibo.
The European pilot-trainees have been grabbing the opportunity offered by Cebu Pacific, as they see no chance of getting hired in Europe due to the recession and continuing downturn in their economies.
Industry sources said that a starting co-pilot earns P300,000 a month and if promoted to captain with four stripes, the salary goes up to P500,000 a month.
In an earlier interview, Capt. Jim Sydiongco, Cebu Pacific vice president for flight operations, said that the company would need 108 pilots for 2014 alone to service its increased fleet, flight frequency, and routes here.
CAE’s Regional Business Leader for Asia, Thomas Farranti, said the PAAT center has extra capacity to be filled with additional programs, hence no need for another training facility in the Philippines. He said in other Asian countries, CAE supports only one aviation school per country.
A type-rating course costs a fortune but students can get a loan from a bank by getting themselves prequalified for employment in an airline with the employment commitment as among the collaterals, explained PAAT General Manager Raoul Perez.
One of the graduates, in fact, was able to secure a loan from the Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. (Metrobank) and another from Robinsons’ Bank. PAAT executed a memorandum of agreement with Maybank and Robinsons Bank recently, Perez added.
Perez said that he is negotiating with universal banks like Metrobank to finance upfront the tuition of would-be pilot trainees for the academy. He explained that the loans must be negotiated prior to the type-rating course and must be backed by collateral.
In Asia, CAE has training centers in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Korea, Hong Kong and Australia. In Singapore, Korea, and the Philippines, CAE has two flight simulators; in Hong Kong it has four and in Malaysia, it has eight, Farranti added.
PAAT, the pilot training school in Clark, has two Airbus simulators that can train up to 1,400 pilots a year.
After training, the graduates have to acquire actual flying time of 3,000 hours for an A320 pilot with 1,000 hours of it from handling A320 to qualify for a Cebu Pacific position.
Demand for pilots in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to increase at a healthy clip over the next 15 years. Airbus forecasts that over 34 percent or 9,160 of total global airplane orders until 2030 are destined for the Asia-Pacific region.
As of July 2013, a total of 5,677 Airbus A320 family aircraft have been delivered to global buyers, of which 5,481 are in service. It also has firm orders for another 4,135 airliners.
Cebu Pacific itself will take delivery between now and 2021 of four more Airbus A330, 30 A321 neo and 14 A320.