'Morale is low -- a lot of people's lives have been ruined'
FOR as long as he can remember, Daniel Barry McLernon wanted to be a commercial airline pilot.
It was always going to be a challenge -- most pilots pay tens of thousands in training and fees in order to meet the rigorous standards required.
Last year when his father Ger received compensation for a workplace accident that nearly killed him, the family knew exactly how to spend the money.
Ger McLernon told his son to apply and insisted on paying all of the money up front to the Waterford-based Pilot Training College (PTC), some €84,500, for an intensive 14-month course that would deliver a commercial licence.
Now Daniel McLernon's dreams, along with those of countless other would-be Irish pilots look broken.
"My worst fear is that this time next week I could be standing in a dole queue in Ireland," he told the Irish Independent from his abandoned Florida training base. "It's a shattered dream and it's going down the drain. I will never get over this."
It is a stark turn of events for the man from Portmarnock, Co Dublin, who in his seven months of training so far has done much to impress.
He holds the record for successful flight simulator training stats; he is amongst the top of his class; is far ahead in essential flight hours and even managed an emergency landing in a small aircraft after its engine failed.
Mr McLernon has already earned his first 'stripe' and was one small step in his training away from securing his Private Pilot's Licence (PPL).
He was, as his parents insist, "born to be a pilot".
"He has put a lot of long hours and hard work into what he is doing and he was doing very well," said his mother, Noeleen Barry.
Given the money involved and the potential for shat-tered ambitions, Mr McLern-on said that many of the stud- ents in Florida are distressed over the lack of clarity regarding their position.
"Morale is low, it's just a disaster basically," he said.
"We have been left here to fend for ourselves. We have no liaison team from PTC Ireland. The PTC Florida group have helped us all the way up to yesterday but their contracts have now been cancelled too."
With training now suspended for the last two weeks, at least 33 Irish trainees -- and as many as 80 according to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) -- remain in limbo.
"A lot of people's lives have been ruined," said Mr McLernon.