Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jetstar pilot program 'puts savings before safety'

Pilots are afraid that a Jetstar training program will put cadets with "substantially less" experience in charge of aircraft.

About 400 pilots from all Australian airlines met in Sydney yesterday over Jetstar's plan to move jobs offshore.

But the pilots also aired their concerns over Jetstar's cadetship training program, saying pilot "experience levels have dropped substantially".

The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) says pilots traditionally require a minimum of 1,000 to 1,500 hours' flying experience before getting in the pilot's seat.

But Jetstar's cadetship program would see potential pilots with no flying experience in the cockpit of a Jetstar plane after 18 months of accelerated training, or about 200 hours of in-the-air training.

AIPA president Barry Jackson says pilots in this program will not have enough experience to fly commercial planes.

"We're introducing a lower level of experienced pilot in an aircraft," he said.

"Cadets have a lot less hours ... and with the expansion that is likely to go on around the Asia-Pacific region, we will see a lot less experienced pilots entering flight decks.

"To put a fairly inexperienced pilot in the right-hand seat of a jet or a high-speed turbine puts a lot of pressure on the pilot in the left-hand seat.

"We want to ensure proper training is carried out throughout all the industry so that our standards are kept up to the very high levels we've come to expect in Australia."

Regional airlines REX and Skytrans recently introduced their own fast-tracked programs, as the use of similar schemes takes off around the world.

Mr Jackson says accidents are on the rise and proper training is needed because of such training.

"As we've seen around the world, there are more and more incidents and accidents that are related to poor training and inexperience," he said.

Under the program, would-be pilots pay an upfront fee to Jetstar and the rest of their training fees come out of their future pay packets.

Mr Jackson says airlines are putting savings ahead of passenger safety.

"Airlines these days are always trying to find a cheaper alternative," he said.

"Airline fares have dropped a lot and therefore the airline companies have to find ways of saving money.

"Young pilots have to pay a substantial amount of money to enter the industry and then work on a reduced salary for the first few years so therefore it is a saving for the airline."

But a Jetstar spokesman rejects the safety concerns, saying the budget airline "conducts its business to the highest safety standards".

"This is about providing the opportunity for highly skilled individuals to take a streamlined approach to entry into a major domestic and international airline with a world-class quality provider," he said.

"Further, they will participate in a funding arrangement where candidates avoid the significant up-front fees should this be done by them individually."

Jetstar says cadets pay $21,000 up front and the remaining cost "will be paid by the individual through regular repayments as part of their employment with Jetstar".

The Jetstar pilot training courses are run in partnership with Oxford Aviation Academy (OAA) and Swinburne University in Melbourne.

OAA managing director Anthony Petteford told the ABC the academy would not comment on safety concerns with the program.

When contacted by the ABC, Swinburne University would also not comment on the program.

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