• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Young Nigerian pilots lament ‘pay to fly’

Delaying pilots’ visas, work permits denies Nigerians quality air travel

A number of young Nigerian pilots seeking employment have a new challenge to contend with as some airlines are demanding that they pay to get trained and type-rated on certain aircraft before they are employed.

BusinessDay investigations also show that after paying to get type-rated, some of the pilots still do not get jobs.

A type rating is defined as an authorisation entered on or associated with a pilot licence and forming part thereof, stating his expertise pertaining to certain aircraft type. Such qualification requires additional training beyond the scope of the initial licence and aircraft class training.

Before now, the practice had always been for airlines to train pilots and get them type-rated to enable them to fly a particular aircraft in the fleet of the airline. But the situation is fast changing as airlines now ask pilots to go and train themselves to get type-rated or pay the airlines to do this for them.

Pilots lamented the situation, saying it was becoming very demanding to practice as a pilot.

According to them, they have to pay to a training school approved by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) to get their air transport pilot licences and still have to pay to get type-rated to fly for an airline after graduating.

Sunday Arome, director of flight operations at Green Africa, who confirmed the situation, said many Nigerians were requested by an airline to do type-rating by themselves but they still did not get employed.

He said, “There are some airlines that mention specific places where pilots have to be trained because they are sure of the standard of those places. And yet that airline may still not accommodate all of them. It is already happening; it is just that the airlines are failing the people. Pilots spend their money to get type-rated and they still do not have employment.

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“This is what Green Africa is trying to address. From day one, we are partnering with them. They are not paying 100 percent; they are paying something. Therefore, they will start to have a sense of belonging and from day one, they are already staff of the airline. We take care of them while they are on that training and they come back to a job.”

According to him, once pilots have their licences, all they need to fly for an airline is get type-rated, which is very expensive.

The NCAA requires a minimum of 1,500 to 2000 hours to fly in Nigeria as a pilot, after which an air transport pilot licence will be issued from the flight training school. After this, pilots can apply for a job in an airline, which is supposed to help type-rate the pilot.

BusinessDay findings revealed that to train in an aviation school and get type-rated as a pilot costs about $40,000.

Industry stakeholders say being a pilot in Nigeria is fast becoming exclusively for the rich.

BusinessDay learnt that airlines are adopting the new model because they observed over time that after investing in pilots by getting them type-rated, they left them for better offers without completing their contracts with the airlines.

A pilot confirmed to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity that even after some pilots got trained and type-rated, there was still no guarantee of getting jobs.

He said in the past, airlines would train their crew on one or more of the fleet they were operating and then the crew (flight/cabin) signed a bond, usually for three to five years.

According to him, the purpose of the bond is to pay off the training cost while ensuring the crew members do not leave within the contractual time.

He said, “Airlines are usually the first to break the terms of the bond with late payment of salaries, taxes and pensions, poor conditions of service, etc.

“Usually, before a crew joins another airline, the employer does due diligence to ensure the crew seeking employment isn’t bonded, sometimes as the case may be, a prospective employer may choose to offset the remainder of the bond while the crew will then sign a new contract with the other employer. The reasons given by the airlines are self-serving.”

Ibrahim Mshelia, owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School, described the new practice by airlines as “strange, absurd and unacceptable.”

He said, “I have been a pilot for 40 years and I am also an operator. This is very strange to me and it is not a practice that I do. For an airline to ask candidate to type-rate by himself before working for him shows a short-cut to the process because for you to come into the airline business in the first place, you must have done your feasibility study and part of the requirement is that an airline is supposed to be training and retraining the crew.

“It is wrong and unethical for airlines to demand from a candidate or a young pilot to train himself or pay them to train him. In my entire career, my employers always train me. I was given some bond and I served my bond. In my company, I employ people and train them and give them bonds and they serve their bond,”

According to Mshelia, if pilots do not serve their bonds, the pilots and the airlines would reach an agreement and they will pay the airlines off.

“Any pilot that does not live up to the agreement after being trained is a criminal and should be treated as such. They should be taken to court, and due process followed. Also, there are employers who violate terms and conditions of contract and if they do, then they have given room for pilots to exercise their rights to depart,” he added.