RAF struggles with a shortage of high fliers

14 Sep 00
The armed forces will be short of pilots for fast jets until 2012, even if current targets are met, the National Audit Office has declared in a report published this week on the training of new pilots.

15 September 2000

'The shortage of trained pilots is a cause of concern and on the department's own projections is likely to continue for some time even if targets are met for training new pilots,' said Sir John Bourn, the auditor general.

'The department should look at possibilities for making existing arrangements for training pilots, already drawn together to a good degree in the Training Group Defence Agency, more coherent.'

The NAO report praises the quality of the training of Britain's military pilots, which is acknowledged internationally. But it estimates that of the total cost of initial pilot training in 1998/99, £280m (27%) is thrown away because of wastage among trainees, the need to fly more hours than planned and delays in moving trainees through the system.

The reason for the shortfall in fast jet pilots, the NAO says, is the length of time it takes for them to reach the front line – 5.5 years compared with the planned three years. 'It costs some £3.8m to train a fast jet pilot prior to operational training, with a further £1.9m for the cost of an operational training course,' the report says.

It identifies a shortage of instructors and suitable aircraft, and says that reductions in the size of the Royal Air Force have also meant that newly-trained pilots could not immediately be absorbed, leading to backlogs in the training pipeline and the need for refresher training.

Some 45 a year too few have entered operational service, it says.


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