“We expect there to be some exceptional talent amongst them – passionate young men and women to learn from the best, to become the best” - Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce at the opening of the Qantas Group Pilot Training Academy. Keith Morgan reports from Toowoomba, Australia.

Many in the airline industry now acknowledge the need for a ‘cradle to retirement’ approach when it comes to managing the quality and quantity of applicants into their pilot pipelines. Many airlines feel a need to be more involved at the grassroots level. Programmes to manage gender equity and support for minority groups are major components of their growth strategies.

For example, in February, United Airlines announced the purchase of the Westwind School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, Arizona US, rebranded as the United Aviate Academy. One of their stated goals is to “increase the number of women and minorities who become pilots.” Low-cost finance and scholarships will be offered as a part of United’s recruitment drive which aims to employ 10,000 pilots by 2029.

Despite the cyclic nature of the airline business (including black swan virus and recessionary interruptions) some airlines have wisely supported cadet programs, through the highs and lows, for decades. Many with proven selection standards strongly supporting gender equity, disadvantaged and minority groups. The recent unprecedented industry growth in Asia, combined with shortage of and demand for pilots, is now encouraging more airlines to engage in the selection and ab initio elements of their training continuums.

Ribbon-Cutting in Wellcamp

In January, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk together declared the Qantas Group Pilot Training Academy open for business. This new purpose-built facility is located at the privately owned Wellcamp International Airport on the outskirts of Queensland’s second largest city of Toowoomba. Just 140 km from Brisbane, Wellcamp was constructed by the local Wagner family companies.

Flight Training Adelaide formed FTA Queensland to be the training provider for Qantas who, in the longer term, plan to build a second pilot training academy, also in regional Australia. This training capability is to mature to a state where 500 pilots a year graduate across both sites, ideally with third-party customers a significant part of that number.

Backstory of the New Build

Qantas Group announced its plan to establish the Qantas Group Pilot Academy in February 2018 and a Request for Information was released in May of that year to identify the most suitable location. The RFI encouraged respondents to work with local, state and federal governments in preparing their responses. Government support in finance, tax concessions and infrastructure assistance typically form part of the competition. A separate process would select the training provider.

The process saw state versus state vie to provide the best regional airport and training solution. Ideally serviced by a Qantas Group airline, the preferred site should provide suitable runway, airspace and weather conditions. It should also provide for the attraction and retention of quality staff, providing infrastructure for the whole family. Education and employment opportunities for family members were a part of the ideal recipe.

In September 2018, UK-based L3 Commercial Training Solutions (now part of L3Harris) was announced as the preferred service provider and Wellcamp as the first of two preferred locations. Negotiations commenced in earnest with a goal to commence training in September 2019. The requirements laid out by Qantas presented a very compressed timeline for a greenfield flight training school to be established. This was a tall ask within foreign regulatory and legal frameworks. Agreement had to be reached with both the Qantas Group and the Wagner Group, which appears to have been a step too far. In March 2019, L3 announced it would withdraw from the process.

In May of 2019 Qantas announced Flight Training Adelaide as the new preferred training partner. FTA had a long and strong relationship with Qantas between 1991 and 2008 when more than 170 Qantas cadets graduated from the Parafield South Australian campus. An aviation industry down cycle followed the international banking and economic crisis that occurred in 2008-9. The Qantas cadet program with FTA was wound down.

With more than 30 years’ experience, FTA has provided integrated and residential cadet pilot training for many of the world’s leading airlines. As a specialist airline training establishment, FTA has been audited and approved by many global regulators including HK CAD, China’s CAAC, UK CAA, EASA and Australia’s CASA. Of note they had established a significant instructor training capability in support of their growth aspirations prior to the Qantas deal. “Expansion of this program in support of the Qantas Academy is readily achievable at FTA”, said Pine Pienaar, CEO of FTA Group.

Successful negotiations saw the first new group of Qantas cadets start training in temporary accommodation and facilities at Wellcamp in September 2019. FTA Queensland was established as a subsidiary of FTA and on 29 January 2020 the Qantas Group Pilot Training Academy in partnership with FTA Queensland and the Wagner Group Toowoomba was officially opened. Amazingly the timeline proposed by Alan Joyce in February 2018 to commence flight training in September 2019 had been met.

Second Academy Site Selected

The cities of Alice Springs, Bendigo, Busselton, Dubbo, Launceston, Mackay and Wagga Wagga were shortlisted for the site of a second Qantas Academy. On 5 July 2019, Qantas Group Pilot Academy Executive Manager Wes Nobelius announced Mackay as the winner. “Mackay offers optimal flying conditions and a sunny Queensland lifestyle which makes it an ideal site for a pilot academy,” said Nobelius. One could assume however the focus for 2020 will be to populate the Toowoomba Academy and staff the critical areas in the delivery of flight training, particularly instructional staff, aircraft engineers and airborne testing officers.

Federal Financing Available

In Australia, Federal Government Fee Help funding is available up to a maximum of AUD150,000 for students studying approved courses at approved universities or tertiary institutions. Conditions apply for citizenship and performance on course.

Most of the Qantas cadets will access this Fee Help opportunity with loan repayments due after graduation and when they cross a designated income threshold. This programme is key for disadvantaged groups, particularly for those with passion and talent but previously with no clear access to finance for pilot training. FTA has a strong background and high success rate in administering Fee Help and delivering training for eligible students.

Qantas has achieved tremendous awareness of the opportunity they are providing with this renewed cadet pathway. Already more than 22,000 people have registered their interest in the academy.

At the time of the academy opening there were 35 cadets under training. The plan is for an incremental ramp up to 250 students in house. Qantas will also look to develop scholarships for disadvantaged, minority and indigenous candidates with proactive awareness campaigns.

FTA Queensland Qantas cadets will train to the Australian CASA Commercial Pilot Licence on the Diamond DA40 and DA42 aircraft with multi-crew training provided at Wellcamp on an FTD to be determined. The course comprises a Diploma of Aviation (CPL-Aeroplane), Diploma of Aviation (Instrument Rating) and Advanced Diploma of Aviation (Pilot in Command). These three elements are completed in 52 weeks at a cost of around AU$123,000 (approximately US$76,000 or 70,000 Euros). Regulatory, medical, uniforms and accommodation are not covered in this cost.

“Training Will Continue as Planned”

“Training will continue as planned as this is seen as an essential industry, stated Pierre Steyn, Chief Operating Officer at FTA Queensland - Qantas Group Pilot Academy, as this issue of CAT was going to press. “Both Colleges comply with State and Federal COVID-19 guidelines.”

Added Pine Pienaar, CEO and Director at FTA Adelaide: “There is no doubt that COVID-19 has had a marked impact on the demand for pilot training and the overall airline landscape. FTA is fortunate enough that a number of its institutional customers have decided to play the long game and continue with their training at FTA during this time. The Government decision to lock down the borders for non-Australians has definitely had an adverse effect on the order book; however, fortunately for FTA, the current in-house number of students, given it is a 12-month program, has allowed the two FTA colleges some breathing space to go about their business as usual as COVID-19 plays out. Managing the business within the restrictive and ever-changing COVID-19 landscape is hard, to say the least, but FTA is blessed with loyal and passionate staff who are committed to do whatever it takes to ensure that the FTA legacy endures.”

Published in CAT issue 2/2020