El Al launches civilian pilots school in Florida

El Al, photo: Sivan Farag
El Al, photo: Sivan Farag

The new course is designed for Israeli citizens, both men and women, at least 21 years old with matriculation certificates and having no previous flying experience.

El Al Israel Airlines Ltd. (TASE: ELAL) is launching a school for civilian pilots in cooperation with veteran pilot training institution Aviator. Aviator is based in Florida, where El Al will hold its pilot classes.

The venture, which is aimed at civilian pilots, is driven by the growing shortage of pilots and the growth in global passenger traffic. Assessments are that the number of passengers will double from four billion at present to 7.8 billion in 2036. The numbers point to a lack of 225,000 pilots worldwide in the next decade with the addition of 25,000 new airplanes in the next 20 years, after deducting the number of planes in commercial fleets that will be grounded and the number of pilots who will retire after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, among other things.

The cost of a civilian pilots license is $65,000 for two years of training, including 1,000 flight hours.

What lies ahead? El Al is making no promises to hire the pilots it trains, but the looming shortage of pilots will enable the new pilots to find jobs with other Israeli or foreign airlines (in the US or Europe with suitable citizenship) or other companies, such as Chinese airlines looking for pilots from anywhere in the world.

For El Al director of business development and strategy Nimrod Borovitz, Israel air force pilots will continue to be El Al's spearhead (only 10% of El Al's pilots are civilian pilots). At the same time, the company is aware that not every military pilot is eager to work as a pilot in civilian life.

The new course is designed for Israeli citizens, both men and women, at least 21 years old with matriculation certificates and having no previous flying experience. In general, women still account for a tiny proportion of El Al pilots - only four of 600 pilots are women, but El Al is looking for increase this number.

Aviator, El Al's partner, has been operating since 1983. The partnership with El Al is initially reflected in careful selection of candidates in a process in Israel with professional advice from El Al instructors in the course of studies in the US.

The first course will open with 26 cadets in December 2018. The candidates who are accepted for studies and training at Aviator's college in Florida will fly in January 2019.

Borovitz said that El Al's attitude towards pilot training had run hot and cold over the years. "A combination of several elements has brought El Al to the decision to start activity that goes beyond its main activity. There is a shortage of pilots in civil aviation. The airplane is metal, but the resource that is lacking in order to operate is technicians and pilots, and this shortage will get worse. We have discovered that not many young people in Israel aspire to be pilots, even those who served as pilots in the army. Many of them are looking for other professions in the civilian market, such as high tech."

According to CAE Aviation figures, 50% of the pilots who will fly in 2027 have not yet begun training. The shortage extends to every continent, with an emphasis on Asia, especially China, where the annual growth rate in passenger traffic is 7-8% (compared with 4% for the rest of the world).

The 1,000 flying hours offered by El Al's program is adapted to the threshold conditions for being accepted by a commercial airline in Israel. The threshold in the US is 1,500 hours and 250 hours in Europe. The studies themselves end after one year with 200 flights hours, while the trainees already qualified as instructors complete the 800 additional hours required to complete the course in the second year.

"The purpose is to do spadework for El Al, but not only that," Borovitz says. "In the end, the global demand will give people willing to live outside Israel the option of working in something they love and making a respectable livelihood."

At the same time, El Al's management is negotiating with a banking institution for a financing program for those interested in pilot studies. The trainees will have to pay 25% of the cost at the beginning and the remainder within five years, under the assumption that they will work as pilots (monthly payments of $1,500). Another idea under consideration by El Al is the possibility of offering pilot cadets the option of remote study for an academic degree from an Israeli institution willing to allow it.

Florida has many pilots schools, five or six of which are close to Aviator. "We examined dozens of educational institutions in the US and Europe, also considered an acquisition, but we decided against embarking on financial adventures," Borovitz explains. "Aviator was suitable to us in its flight safety requirements. Other factors included its variety of airplanes and the work permits it provides for the students." El Al aims to run four courses a year with 26 cadets in each course.

As for the $65,000 tuition, Borovitz says that prices in Florida are in the $50,000-90,000 range. Assuming that a pilot begins working as soon as he finishes the course, he or she can make back the investment in training. In addition to tuition, another cost to consider is $5,000 for fees for the US authorities and $25,000 in living expenses during the training period.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 18, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

El Al, photo: Sivan Farag
El Al, photo: Sivan Farag
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