Friday 23 August 2019

Air Corps linking up with Royal Australian Air Force in bid to speed up training of pilots

Air Corp helicopter (stock image)
Air Corp helicopter (stock image)
Tom Brady

Tom Brady

THE Air Corps is linking up with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in a bid to speed up the training of experienced pilots.

The steady exodus of pilots from the military into better paid jobs in the private sector has left the Air Corps with a serious shortage of experienced personnel, who can act as trainers.

A new initiative has now been approved by the Government, which will result in two pilots initially being sent to the RAAF to fast-track their training programme to qualify them as aircraft commanders.

They will return to the Air Corps as commanders and then deployed to train other pilots.

If the initiative is successful, it is likely to be expanded as part of a number of measures being introduced to combat the shortages.

The plan was brought before yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in Donegal – the last before the summer break – by minister with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe and approved by his colleagues.

The two pilots will undertake three to four months training, flying fixed wing twin-engine aircraft with the RAAF.

A further 15 month placement with the Australians will be used to build flying experience within an operational setting.

The pilots are expected to build up an estimated 300 flying hours, which will allow them to qualify as aircraft commanders.

The move follows months of negotiation involving senior Department of Defence officials and military management with the Australians and will not involve any financial costs, apart from what is being described as the normal financial support package payable for overseas service and this will be finalized after the candidates have been selected.

The RAAF has confirmed that the cost of training the pilots will be waived.

The shortage of experienced pilots stems from the unprecedented number of early departures from the Air Corps and it is hoped the new initiative will speed up its training capacity.

In its recently published report, the Public Service Pay Commission acknowledged that the retention problem with flying officers was so critical that services were in jeopardy.

The report showed that the Air Corps was experiencing the biggest gap between real and establishment strength of the three arms of the Defence Forces with a shortfall of 18.3pc at the end of last year, compared with 5.73pc in the military organisation generally.

Its recommendation that service commitment scheme, which had been successful in the past in retaining pilots, should be re-introduced urgently, was accepted by the government and the majority of pilots will receive an 18,000 euro loyalty bonus if the findings are agreed by the representative associations.

Projections from the department indicated that flying officers would be operating at 28pc below the establishment strength by the end of this year.

Current figures show that the number of pilots is 30 down on the establishment figure of slightly over 100.

A total of 29 pilots have left since 2019 and the number of newly recruited officers is not keeping pace with those leaving.

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