RAF's trainee pilots are spending years flying DESKS instead of planes

RAF’s Top Gun wannabes are spending years flying DESKS instead of planes due to shortage of aircraft and instructors

  • Over half of people in the flying training system are waiting for a training place
  • Instructors have had to reschedule training to protect UK airspace
  • It could mean not enough pilots are available to operate future frontline planes 
  • Trainee pilots are waiting around in UK military buildings ‘on hold’ for a space 

RAF recruits are waiting months and even years to learn to fly warplanes, using desks to practice instead, leaked documents have revealed.   

An internal memo from May and slides from a top RAF meeting in July revealed the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) fast jet pilots are experiencing a severe delay in waiting times for training slots due to a lack of aircraft and instructors. 

The ‘crisis’ backlog means not enough pilots may be available in the future to fly planes on the frontline, including Typhoon and F35 squadrons, reports Sky News. 

The delays come at a time of international insecurity with growing threats from Russia and China and war in Europe.  

The documents revealed that 347 trainees – more than half of the total 596 in aircraft training – are waiting for a training course slot or are on a ‘refresher course’ due to delays between training phases. 

UK trainee frontline pilots are learning to fly desks instead of warplanes due to severe training delays, leaked documents have revealed. Pictured: RAF Typhoons intercepting a Belgian transport plane in January 2020

Waiting times to learn how to fly a Chinook helicopter are between two to three years. 

What did the leaked documents reveal?

  • There is an engine problem in the Hawk jets used by recruits for training. This could increase training delays by a year
  • Concerns about qualified pilots who have left the RAF for better-trained jobs in a ‘damaging drain’ 
  • Only 11 trainee UK pilots are scheduled to learn how to fly an F35 or Typhoon this year, despite there being 43 slots
  • Limited training space is being taken up by the UK’s commitment to train pilots from Qatar and Saudi Arabia 

Source: An internal memo and slides from a meeting of RAF officers, reported by Sky News

Trainee pilots are waiting around RAF bases, military headquarters and even at the Ministry of Defence in London – called ‘holdies’ as they remain on hold for a training course. 

This means that the average age of a newly-qualified pilot is now 29 – up from early 20s. 

A former senior air force officer spoke anonymously to Sky News, calling the delays a ‘scandal’ and a ‘crisis’. 

But a spokesperson from the RAF said ‘most trainee pilots will experience a hold at the start of their career’ and said training times have ‘steadily improved’ with enough instructors now having been hired. 

One internal note alleged the RAF was considering asking up to 30 recruits to quit voluntarily due to the problems.

The RAF said ‘no final decisions have been made’ and that asking the staff to leave was just one option being considered. 

Training courses have had to be rescheduled as instructors have had to take time out to protect UK airspace – an instance that occurred at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.  

Other aircraft – including military transport, planes and helicopters – as well as the army and navy are also said to be suffering. 

Pilots in the RAF receive £30,000 minimum average pay in their first year, rising to £42,000 after specialist training. 

In November the RAF announced it would aim to have pilots spend only 20 per cent of their training time in the air during training – and the other 80 in a flight simulator to reduce carbon emissions.  

An RAF spokesperson said:

‘Our people are our greatest asset and we’re committed to ensuring we attract and retain the best and brightest talent to meet current and future threats. 

The documents revealed that 347 trainees – more than half of the total 596 in aircraft training – are waiting on a slot on a training course or are on a ‘refresher course’. Pictured is a 208 Sqn Hawk TMK1 with two 19 (F) Squadron Hawk TMK1s

‘Whilst we acknowledge there are challenges with the training pipeline, we are working across defence, with industry and our international partners to improve the training experience and results for our personnel, including recruiting more instructors and actively managing timeframes for training. 

‘We continue to have sufficient aircrew to meet our operational commitments.’

Background:

Training pipeline

‘We acknowledge the challenge the flying training pipeline has faced and that it was taking longer than planned for trainees to complete their flying training. 

‘But much progress has been made, and the number of trainees progressing through UKMFTS has steadily improved. We have sufficient aircrew to meet our current frontline operational commitments.

‘A steady flow of trained aircrew is vital to deliver our future capability. We actively manage the pilot training pipeline in order to maintain pilot throughput and reduce the waiting time between courses and within training overall.

The ‘crisis’ backlog means not enough pilots may be available in the future to fly planes on the frontline, including Typhoon and F35 squadrons. File picture of RAF Typhoons above

‘There have always been planned holds in the flying training pipeline to ensure all courses are fully utilised, and most trainee pilots will experience a hold at the start of their career before commencing operational training. 

‘Aircrew on hold are fulfilling required and essential roles within the Armed Forces with an aim to expand their skills in other areas of MOD business.

‘While we acknowledge there are challenges, we continue to work with industry partners and frontline commands to improve the training pipeline and ensure the MOD continues to have sufficient qualified pilots to meet our frontline commitments.’

Numbers of qualified instructors

‘The RAF acknowledges that it has previously not had sufficient numbers of qualified flying instructors but this has improved, and we now have enough instructors to fulfil the tasks.

‘We will continue to work closely with our training partner to find ways of increasing instructor numbers.

‘The voluntary withdrawal of up to 30 trainees is but one option, amongst many, that is being considered by the Aircrew Pipeline Steering Group as part of its routine business. However, no final decisions have yet been made.’

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