Aviation

Lufthansa pilots face jobs crisis

Christian Ebner - DPA

“The future looms before me like a black hole.”

This sentiment seems more appropriate to a school drop-out than to someone about to pass out of the Lufthansa pilot-training centre in the northern German port city of Bremen.

Despite being Europe’s largest airline, Lufthansa has few vacancies for pilots trained at great expense to fly its downsizing fleet of jets.

This has led to frustration and anxiety among the almost 900 would-be pilots undergoing training at various levels at the centre. Open conflict has now erupted, forcing Lufthansa’s executive board to act.

While only about six per cent of the 7000 applicants each year are accepted following testing of their technical and scientific abilities, and above all their teamwork, dropping out from the course subsequently is rare.

The training usually lasts longer than the scheduled 29 to 33 months, but once on the course almost all end up with their dream job, which in the case of Lufthansa is also well paid.

“We will one day urgently need these young people,” says flight captain Stefan Thilo Schmidt, head of Lufthansa’s pilot recruitment program.

Apart from reduction in the fleet, pilots are now allowed to fly to the age of 65, rather than being made to retire at 60, further reducing vacancies.

And Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr increasingly sees the airline’s future in its budget subsidiary Eurowings, where pilots no longer enjoy the annual basic salary of 250,000 euros ($A366,000) plus pension arrangements that more than half the group’s pilots still enjoy.

The conflict has led to a series of 12 strikes backed by the pilots’ trade union, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC).

Lufthansa stopped contracting pilots under these conditions last year, and training in Bremen has been put on ice.

There are fully trained pilots who started their training five years ago, but with the multi-pilot licence they have gained they can do nothing outside Lufthansa. They need the so-called line training, which they will only get after signing a Lufthansa contract.

As one 30-year-old puts it: “Now I’m a school-leaver with a driver’s licence and large debts. I had seen the future differently. I am completely dependent on what the company offers me.”

Under the arrangements to date, Lufthansa trainee pilots have financed part of their training costs – estimated at 200,000 euros – through loans, repaying the airline about 60,000 euros once employed.

Those seeking employment elsewhere have been saddled with the full costs.

Lufthansa now proposes allowing the trainees to buy themselves out by paying up to 60,000 euros. The scheme has not proved popular.

“It is seen as an option to extract themselves for those with other perspectives who do not want to wait for a position to be freed up in the company,” Schmidt says.

VC spokesman Markus Wahl says: “This is no way to treat the next generation of pilots.”

He calls for a solution to be found in talks between the union and the company.

Spohr and Bettina Volkens, the executive board member responsible for human resources, are to hear the complaints from the trainees in person.



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