Airlines Are Looking For Pilots: An Investigation Of These Highly Desirable Private Schools

Uniforms on the back, white short-sleeved shirt and aviator glasses on the nose, they all have the look of a pilot. It is therefore inevitable that between two lessons, at the coffee machine of the Astonfly school, built at the airport of Toussus-le-Noble (Yvelines), it is not the last football match we do over, but the appearance of Tom Cruise in Top Gun† Opposite the large bay window behind which are six shiny “cuckoo clocks”, pampered by mechanics, the student pilots can already see themselves there. “It’s really a childhood dream. I could have tried another school, but learning to fly near Paris, where the traffic is heavy, will be an asset for the future. And then I have a friend who was hired as soon as he left , that’s reassuring,” says Edouard, barely 18 years old.

Although the royal road for future pilots has long been the National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC) in Toulouse, which trains about twenty hand-picked brilliant students in twenty-four months, the profession has been democratized over the past fifteen years with the opening of private schools with close links forge with companies. “The industry has evolved a lot. Plus, if there are still a few enthusiasts trying the adventure of professional retraining, 95% of our students have never flown themselves before pushing the school door,” said Charles Clair, CEO of the group of the same name (60 million euros turnover, 135 employees) which, after the opening of its academy, has specialized in business aviation (Astonjet, founded in 2009).

Training billed at 90,000 euros

Bitten by the aviation virus from adolescence – his parents offered him his first internship when he was 16 – the 1940s cultivated a very pragmatic approach to the profession. Just like his students. For the approximately one hundred candidates that are selected each year, the training of 90,000 euros is no obstacle. It’s an investment. “When I said the amount I wanted to borrow from the bank, they were a bit hallucinated. But when I indicated that it would be a pilot, they said to themselves, ‘Okay, we’ll be able to keep it for ten years,”” laughs Jessy, a 21-year-old student who grew up in Belgium and dreams of joining Emirates. Like the vast majority of his PhD colleagues (a dozen students, including just 3 girls), they therefore went through the “bank loan” box to fund their eighteen months of internship, half theory, half practice on the air. A generation marked by Covid, which did not hesitate to launch when aircraft planes were precisely blocked on the tarmac for months.

At Astonfly School, the students are never far from the planes

At Astonfly School, the students are never far from the planes

SP // The Express

Limited offer. 2 months for 1€ without obligation

In 2020-2021, even the most optimistic commercial aviation oracles would not have expected that from the summer of 2022 we would find indicators close to pre-crisis levels. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), meeting this week in Doha for its annual high mass, recognized that a return to profitability by 2023 was “within reach” as the airlines expect to find 83% of their pre-pandemic passengers this year. . A good omen, except that the profession suffers from a lack of pilots and flight personnel.

“After the Covid air gap, European companies are looking for 6,000 pilots (13,000 worldwide by 2025, editors note) while we train barely a thousand each year. Demand is huge and all over Europe we are on the verge of training saturation ”, indicates Charles Claire. During the pandemic, the senior captains were often the first to be fired by the companies that slashed their payrolls. Some have gone to the Gulf or to the United States, where the restart was fastest. The shortage is there, with some companies canceling hundreds of flights this summer as customers crowd at European terminals.

The pressure is so great that companies are now pushing the door of schools to pre-book talent. Charles Clair, for example, has just signed a partnership with Europe’s number 1, Ireland’s Ryanair, to provide it with 500 pilots from his school over the next four years. “As we train about 150 people a year, it is almost certain that they will be hired on departure. And for a young pilot, Ryanair is a great gateway to the profession,” explains Patrick Milward, the school’s director of training. “We will be hiring up to 1,000 pilots per year over the next four years, confirms Neal McMahon, director of operations for the Irish company. And Astonfly will provide us with a pool of pilots from across Europe to meet the needs of our growing network.

A first job at Ryanair for less than 2000 euros

But flying for Ryanair, a powerful European company but often criticized for its cheap regime, does it make students dream? “It’s interesting. If you start cheap, the first six months are financially difficult (between 1500 and 2000 euros per month, editor’s note) but the pace of work (4 days worked, 3 days off) gives more visibility elsewhere, ‘ notes Jessy. “Inevitably, many French pilots want to go to Air France because the conditions are very favorable. But places are very limited and I do not encourage someone with little experience to be demanding in their first position. Picky”, replies Etienne Peltier, teacher, himself a graduate of the school.

Charles Clair, the CEO, started flying when he was 16 years old.

Charles Clair, the CEO, started flying when he was 16 years old.


In his theoretical courses, entirely in English, this former Air Austral flight attendant emphasizes the many acronyms and small practical details of the daily lives of crews. And right, the topic of the day is safety. “It is priority number 1! That is why we work a lot in simulators on emergency measures. The calamity must become a routine, as if the last one happened yesterday,” he explains to his students, showing the images of a complete evacuation of an A380 carried out in less than 90 seconds as required by regulation. “We work on the lessons in advance, at home. The theory is important, but it is true that we can’t wait to be in practice. The pressure is stronger during the flight, because if we don’t live up to expectations, we have to pay back your flights and pay overtime,” explains Edouard. Count between 250 and 500 euros per flight hour, depending on the engine of the aircraft.

This financial aspect is therefore always present on the vulnerable shoulders of students. When they graduate from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, they will also have to “qualify” for a family of aircraft (Boeing, Airbus), depending on the fleet of the airline that has hired them. This additional training, again at their expense, is essential to taking matters into your own hands. It will cost future pilots a new check for around 30,000 euros. But the game is worth the candle, because progression on the pay roster can be exponential.

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“At Ryanair, the best can become captains after four years and the salary rises to 150,000 euros per year,” says Charles Clair, who constantly visits the various European companies with his own plane. In addition, to meet their needs, Astonfly is in very advanced discussions to open subsidiaries of its school in Southern Europe and Eastern Europe. New partnerships, such as the one just entered into with Ryanair, are being finalized, which could quickly make Charles Clair’s company a leader in pilot training in the old continent.


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