Loganair warns of future flight cuts facing Scotland unless urgent moves to address looming pilot shortage

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Call for VAT-free training costs and access to student loans to widen access have been suggested by the Loganair boss to help with the pilot shortage

Flights will be cut by the UK’s largest regional airline within three to five years if financial incentives are not improved to attract more people to train as pilots, its chief executive has told The Scotsman.

Jonathan Hinkles, the boss of Glasgow-based Loganair, called for the UK Government to remove the 20 per cent VAT from pilot training to bring it into line with other countries, and enable trainees to take out student loans to spread the average £100,000 cost.

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Mr Hinkles warned that a growing shortage of pilots would also hit other UK airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which recruited from Loganair. He predicted the UK could see a repeat of the cuts to hundreds of routes made by airlines in the United States and Australia.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said the UK was out of step with other countries over VAT on pilot training. (Photo by Loganair)Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said the UK was out of step with other countries over VAT on pilot training. (Photo by Loganair)
Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said the UK was out of step with other countries over VAT on pilot training. (Photo by Loganair)

The Loganair chief said the number of trainee pilots had reduced by one third over the past decade and two of the largest independent flying schools had closed in the past year, including Tayside Aviation in Dundee. He said that post-Brexit, only UK pilots could fly UK-registered aircraft, while vacancies had increased by early retirement during the Covid pandemic.

Loganair flies throughout Scotland, across the UK and to Norway and Denmark. It is to axe Inverness to Birmingham and Dublin flights in January and suspend four routes over the winter due to “soft market conditions”.

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) said zero-rating VAT would not benefit trainees. Research it commissioned from consultants Systra recommended the move, but warned the saving might not be passed on to trainees by flying schools.

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Mr Hinkles said: “If we cannot get the pilots to operate our aircraft, it will mean services being reduced in three to five years unless this issue is tackled now.

"We are concerned that the same scenario as in the US and Australia could develop in the UK unless we start to do something by increasing the number of people who are able to pursue flying as a career option by making it affordable and providing access to funding.

“For the UK Government, the prospect of payback of a student loan from a pilot is arguably greater than many other professions and there’s no fiscal risk to the Treasury in making the change.”

An Airlines UK spokesperson: “VAT on pilot training coupled with the lack of student loans has a ‘double whammy’ effect of closing this career path to many aspiring pilots, harming diversity and increasing the risk of a future pilot shortage.

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"We fully support calls for the removal of VAT from pilot training alongside making student loans available to future pilots from all backgrounds – both solutions backed by the UK Government’s independent report this year.”

The DfT said its research noted there was no evidence that zero-rating VAT would provide any savings for trainees and would have no or negligible impact.

The department’s spokesperson said: “Supporting the aviation workforce is a priority and in its first year, our Generation Aviation programme has encouraged thousands of young people to pursue rewarding careers. We’ve also invested £750,000 [in the Reach for the Sky Challenge Fund] to inspire future generations of aviators to ensure the aviation industry has a workforce fit for the future.”

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