The profession of pilot is always a dream. To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to consult the list, provided a 777X wing, of flight schools approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC). But from dream to reality, the air pocket is sometimes violent. The bankruptcy of Airways College in 2021 is an extreme example. Two hundred and twenty young student pilots found themselves on the floor overnight, having paid more than 100,000 euros in advance for the two-year training.
A year later, the vast majority were able to resume pilot training, thanks to media coverage of their setback. The state, through the National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC) and the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, in partnership with Airways College’s buyer, PFT Aero, has teamed up to enable them to resume their course. But 177 students still had to bring in 10,000 euros to complete the budget.
Pilots’ union has stepped up
The case nevertheless left its mark and convinced some to take action so that their profession does not become a mirror to the larks. In early 2022, the main airmen’s union, the SNPL, issued a charter of good conduct for Accredited Training Organizations (ATOs).
“During the bankruptcy of Airways College, we received a lot of testimonials,” explains Thierry Auriol, who is responsible for the employment and training department at SNPL. They were sometimes human dramas. A family had sold their house to pay for the education! Most young people had nothing, with a loan of 100,000 euros that had to be repaid in 10 years. As a trade union we felt that we should defend the rights of our future colleagues. Hence this charter of good conduct, proposed for signature by training centers”.
Most commitments relate to the financial aspect. To avoid a new “Airways College”, the signatory schools commit to publishing their accounts on Infogreffe. But also to spread the payment for the training, “so that the difference between the training credit and the training actually carried out does not exceed 10,000 euros”. The deposit paid upon enrollment should not exceed 10% of the total, as well as the cost of breach of contract, in case of default or abandonment by the student.
However, this charter continues to be based on the goodwill of the schools, which have signed it to only seven (see below) of the approximately twenty ATOs requested by the SNPL. This is particularly the case with Astonfly, the school of the Aston group, which recently signed a contract with Ryanair to train 500 pilots over four years. “The SNPL has convinced us to sign and we hope all ATOs will do the same,” assures its CEO, Charles Clair. We have always published our accounts.
As acknowledged by the CEO, Astonfly nevertheless had to change its terms and conditions in order to adhere to the charter, sharply lowering the deposit amount and fines for violations. “In the event of a failure in the theoretical part, we only pay the price of the theory (about 10,000 euros), but the failure rate is less than 7%,” assures Charles Clair.
The problem of lack of control
Some school leaders remain cautious about the SNPL. Others believe that they already offer sufficient guarantees. That is the case at Airbus Flight Academy, which can count on the reputation of shareholder Airbus. But also much more modest schools such as Aeroflight, in Lognes, which offer modular training. “With us, we pay per training module, starting with the private pilot’s license,” explains Hughes Lionnet. If we stop along the way, we will at least have a private pilot’s license.”
For Geoffroy Bouvet, president of the Association of Aviation Professionals (APNA), who has drawn up his own charter and is working on an ATO label together with the General Aviation Professionals Group (GIPAG), the main problem remains the lack of control over the schools. . “Some posts pledges that they don’t respect and are playing on the lack of precision of the clauses, he explains. We have a dozen pending files of cheated students attesting to this. For a charter to work, there has to be audit work , as we do at APNA, with lawyers and volunteer pilots”.
Pending a possible label unanimously accepted, the safest route for aspiring pilots remains the all-too-rare more or less free courses, at the forefront of which are the National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC) and the “cadets of Air France. The only problem: the first only selects about twenty candidates a year through competition, while the second has been closed for 10 years and the selection is just as draconian.
Signing schools of the SNPL charter: EPAG, Qualiflight France, GMT Aviation, EATIS, SAF Training Academy, Mermoz Academy, Astonfly