Friday 20 October 2017

Student pilots caught up in US dispute to begin journey home

Mark Hilliard

After two weeks with no sign of a resolution, the first of 34 stranded Irish pilots are due to make their way home from Florida today.

At least two are expected to arrive by tomorrow and the majority of others are looking to book Tuesday flights as emotions continue to run high.

With both the Waterford-based Pilot Training College (PTC) and the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) -- the two schools involved -- continuing to dispute the cause of the course's termination, students said they can no longer cope.

They will now have to fork out for flights home not to mention over $150 (€120) in taxi fares to Orlando Airport from their base in Melbourne, Florida, because the PTC will not be in a position to offer transfers.

The students said they have been left without any support or assistance.

"People are just breaking. A lot of people over here are very young," said would-be pilot Daniel Barry McLernon.

"I'm 22 but there are people straight out of school. . . with no one to talk to and no family. They have to go home."

Both companies continue to point the finger at each other -- FIT claims PTC owes it $1.2m (€1m) in unpaid fees.

But yesterday, PTC said that it had run into financial difficulty because of costs incurred due to the slow pace of training.

Meanwhile, students, who have paid up to €85,000 each, are without answers.

An Irish Aviation Authority representative has been assisting students to make alternative arrangements to finish their 15-month commercial airline courses, but most said they don't have the money to follow through.

Paul Gleeson, the Irish consular general based in Atlanta, Georgia, arrived yesterday to provide help.

"If anything it's getting worse as time goes on," said trainee Conor Deeny (18), from Derry.

He has logged about 50 hours of flying time but needs about 170 hours before he can qualify. He is not hopeful.

Irish Independent

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