• AFTIA believes an apprentice pilot scheme is the answer to Australia's looming shortage of experienced pilots. (Steve Hitchen)
    AFTIA believes an apprentice pilot scheme is the answer to Australia's looming shortage of experienced pilots. (Steve Hitchen)

The fledgling Australian Flight Training Industry Association (AFTIA) yesterday proposed a government-supported apprenticeship scheme for new CPLs to work in general aviation.

The proposal was aired during yesterday's hearing on the Senate Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) inquiry into the general aviation industry.

AFTIA Chair Maddy Johnson testified by video link that Australia's reluctance to fully re-open airline travel was causing a pilot crisis as other nations opened sooner drawing Australian pilots overseas. AFTIA says the airlines were taking pilots from the GA pool with less experience, likening GA to "an estuary that has been over-fished."

According to AFTIA, the issue could be tackled by an apprenticeship scheme that would see CPL students spend the last year of their tertiary training working with an operator with the wage subsidised by the government. AFTIA believes this would encourage operators to put on safety pilots to supervise the CPL candidates.

"We're saying that we're vocational education, yet how do we get them into industry when there isn't a mechanism currently that allows them to have apprenticeship-style or first-job placement," Johnson said. "So do we add an extra competency ... into the diploma and degree programs that is that placement, because we can't employ them until they're a CPL.

"From a business point of view you've got the most expensive person in your business oversighting the most junior ... if we can get some support for the first 6-12 months for each brand new student–and this could be for maintenance as well, but particularly for flying–then the charter operators who run single-pilot ops ... if there was a funding model put in place there that allowed them to employ two pilots with some apprenticeship-style funding then they would put a safety pilot on.

"And we know that all of these pilots are going to start moving through very quickly; they get their 500 hours multi [engine] and they're off to the majors."

Johnson said the impact of the pilot drain had been evident pre-COVID and that AFTIA expected it to be replicated once the industry was back to full operations again, but that the problem was predictable and could be overcome with government support.

"We need to be supporting those that get to the industry by putting the money in the right place."

Senator McDonald described the proposal as a "terrific suggestion" and noted that it reflected a recent transport industry inquiry during which an apprenticeship scheme was also proposed.

After questioning by Senator Glenn Sterle, Johnson said that she expected an apprenticeship scheme would cost about $25,000 per student for the first year, noting that if the subsidy was available, the GA industry was likely to put on more students, meaning the student has access to aviation experience and the business in which they worked would be more sustainable.

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