Pilots under pressure: retaliation exposed

The document below is the indeniable evidence why pilots might in some case not report biased practices in the aviation sector. More specifically here, pilots that pay to work.

full screen

As was known to us since august 2014 and confirmed by the March 11, 2015 Norwegian NRK report (that we translated here), Cyprus based Pilot Management Services indeed works hand in hand with Lithuanian Small Planet Airlines to provide a hefty mandatory loan (35,000€) in order for the pilot to work for them.

As a "ready-to-be-sent", the existence of this document alone is proof pilots are threatened with their careers shall they disclose/disagree with/complain about anything that would unplease management.

Fortunately according to the EASA: "the fact that airlines make their personnel pay does not intervene in aviation safety regulation, as long as pilots are technically qualified" _source

Right... passengers worldwide can feel much safer now. What a relief!
Case closed. Or so it seems.

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Pay to fly: the definition

Started September 24th 2014, and after a rejection for Christmas, following 6 months of work:

I'm not going to succeed making those words sound as important as they are (at least to me), but seeing this definition entering wikipedia seems much like discovering a word in the dictionary:
pieces of inalienable truth are unveiled.

Will that truth be perverted (changed, edited by P2F perpetrators, corrupted)?
Time will tell. What remains sure is, the enemy is now clearly in sight, and young pilots will put up the good fight.

We will stop "pay to fly".

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NAS: pilots paid to work to break a strike

According to mainstream media, there is a consensus where strikes in general are a liability for corporations in various sectors. Having suffered a major blow however, the era where aviation unions had bargaining power is officially gone.

From this day forward, (as you will read on the NRK Norwegian Broadcasting Network article below), not only are strikes mitigated, they are also a mean to make more money than normal day operations, by:

  • maintaining the airline activity (destroying any union's leverage along the way) and
  • adding extra revenue from a labour force that... pays to work (keeping pilots' financial pretentions on a leach)

Without further addo, there goes...

Norwegian uses controversial airline from Lithuania to solve their pilot crisis

Inexperienced pilots pay large sums to get aviation experience in Lithuanian Small Planet Airlines. Norwegian used this company to avoid cancellations during the strike

[To avoid cancellations on European routes, Bjørn Kjos, CEO of Norwegian, hired numerous unknown companies.]

During the recent pilot strike Norwegian leased aircraft and crew from a number of foreign airlines in order to carry out their flights in Europe. The use of these airlines was sharply criticized as being strikebreaking.

Documents that NRK has seen prove that one of these airlines, Small Planet Airlines from Lithuania, uses a highly controversial scheme called “pay-to-fly”.

This “pay-to-fly” scheme means inexperienced pilots who are unable to find a job elsewhere, are paying large sums to be allowed to fly for this airline.

Critics argue this not only poses a safety risk, but is also gross exploitation of labour

Pilots must take out loans

These pilots hope to gain enough experience to get a job elsewhere, but they work in conditions that are a far cry from the conditions the Norwegian pilots are fighting for.

In 2013, a pilot had to take out a loan and pay 35,000 euros in advance to fly for Small Planet during four months, as appears from the contract documents that NRK has seen.

The contract states pilots had to pay off the loan whilst flying for the airline. Therefore they are bound to fly for the company.

The pilots receive a monthly salary of around 3,117 euros before taxes. A protest group of young pilots named Cockpit Seeker that fights against the "Pay-to-fly" schemes, has provided NRK with the necessary documents.

“Small Planet still uses the scheme today. We are in touch with several pilots who have recently paid to fly for this company,” said Vanessa Sanchez, one of the members of this group.

During the strike Small Planet performed about 50 flights for Norwegian, according to research NRK has done on the website Flightradar24.

Fear for safety

The Small Planet contracts state that the company can fire pilots if they become ill and/or are absent from work for more than ten days.

According to Jack Netskar, SAS pilot and head of International Affairs of the Norwegian Pilots Association, these working conditions, together with the fact that pilots must fly to pay off their loan, are a threat to aviation safety.

He fears that these pilots go to work, even if they are not fit to fly.

“When you have paid so much to build up flight hours, you will have to fly, no matter what,” says Netskar.

Slave Contract

One pilot working for Small Planet had a very uncertain position during the months he worked for the company.
He was actually employed by a staffing company in Cyprus called Pilot Management Services, and he paid this company money to fly with Small Planet.
The pilot contract states amongst others:

  • the pilot can be prosecuted if he is over 30 days late in paying interest and principal on the loan.
  • the pilot can be terminated without cause, with 30 days notice.
  • the pilot will be fined over 10,000 euros if he reveals the contract content.

“It is a pure slave contract where they exploit the fact that there are more pilots than jobs,” says Netskar.

He calls it "despicable" that Norwegian used this company to fill the gaps in their flight plan caused by the strike.

Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority is not concerned

The pilots in the "Pay-to-fly" scheme only work as co-pilot, and therefore fly with an experienced captain in the cockpit.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which is responsible for aviation safety in Norway, does not consider the pay-to-fly scheme to be a problem.

“Pilots have been trained within commercial companies for years. However, it is new that some companies ask money to train pilots within their own company,” says Frode Lenning, head of Fleet Operation Section, CAA.

So there is no reason for concern?

“ We have been training cadet pilots in the cockpit for years, at different levels. What is new here, is the social aspect, and this is not part of the aviation safety regulatory system,” Lenning says.

We hire approved companies

Norwegian states that they didn't know that Small Planet uses "such a scheme", but says, "all airlines lease planes and crew from companies that are approved by the European aviation authorities".

VP Media Relations Lasse Sandakerveien-Nielsen from Norwegian, in reply to the accusations from Netskar:

"The agenda of SAS pilot Netskar is quite obvious, namely to scare customers away from Norwegian. We hire approved European companies to serve our customers, and we will inform them in advance via SMS which company will carry out the flight".

Small Planet was not willing to answer questions. So far, Pilot Management Services has not responded to NRK inquiries.

English translation courtesy Nienke Groenendijk

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‘Return on investment’ thinking
in aviation


These times are characterized by so-called “return in investment” thinking. On all fronts, the focus is on profits and shareholder value. This not only applies to companies, but also to healthcare and education. We are shifting increasingly from the Rhine model, where government, employers and employees are willing to work together, to the Anglo-Saxon model in which self-reliance, market forces, freedom and limited social security are paramount.

In practice this means companies are taking less and less responsibility for their employees and would actually prefer to shed their obligations as an employer. In the Netherlands, this has resulted in a nearly 1 million self-employed workers, a number that has grown significantly since the beginning of the economic crisis. Many of these workers have not become freelancers of their own free will. They would like to have more social security, if only to buy a house or maintain a family. Many of them are also “bogus self-employed”: they work exclusively for one client and there is a relationship of authority since they perform the same work as employees of this particular client. This is against the law, but who enforces the legislation?

In collaboration with the University of Ghent and the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Civil Aviation,

ECA has extensively researched bogus self-employment among pilots. The results were compiled in a report that was officially released during the recent ECA conference on “Atypical forms or aircrew employment in the European aviation industry” in Paris.

The results of the research are alarming: more than 1 in 6 pilots in Europe are atypical employees: they work through an agency, as a freelancer or based on a zero-hour contract. 7 out of 10 self-employed pilots work for a low-cost carrier. This so-called “employment” is often used to hide the fact that they are regular employees; after all, they perform the same work as pilots with a fixed contract and therefore there is a relationship of authority between self-employed pilots and the airline that hires them. This bogus construction creates unfair competition and distorts the market.

Pilot quote from the report:

“Competition between pilots (too many pilots on the market) is due to flight schools that train too many people and make false promises. I think the difference in wages and working conditions is caused by the large number of pilots who are looking for work, and who all have a huge debt.”

At the beginning of their career young pilots find themselves in such a weak position that they have to accept poor working conditions, because otherwise they will never land their first job. Airlines take advantage of the surplus of low-hour pilots and make them pay their own type rating or - even worse – their type rating plus line training under the pretext of “gaining experience”. In Europe this is possible because of loopholes in the legislation. Legislation in the field of social security and safety should therefore be adjusted to ensure that above-mentioned models do not jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of crews and passengers.

The ECA research also shows that bogus self-employment affects flight safety. Almost 50% of the self-employed pilots say they encounter difficulties in following instructions of the company because these instructions are in conflict with flight safety.

Self-employed pilots are dependent on the airline that hires them and will therefore not report sick when they are not fit to fly, and will not raise safety concerns, fearing their client will no longer use their services. They have no leg to stand on, since the airline knows there are dozens of low hour pilots eager to joint and bring in money by paying their own type rating (at a multiple of the cost).

Pilot quote from the report:

“I worked for a low-cost airline and it was horrible. Something has to be done in terms of legislation. People dare not to call in sick, could be fired within a moment's notice, and management uses subtle threats to push things through. Terrible working conditions, low pay and zero-hour contracts. For cabin crew, the situation was even worse.”

Pilot quote from the report:

“After thirty years of flying, I have noticed that aviation is not what it used to be. I can not recommend anyone to become a pilot, unless you can get a job with a national airline. Aviation managers violate the law and expect the same of young pilots. As a pilot in Europe you have no job security, no home base for your family and in certain EU member states you are exploited by low-cost airlines. It's an endless race to the bottom that will require its toll sooner or later. Strong demotivation, fatigue, less training and pushing boundaries are many methods used to reduce costs and to pay bonuses to managers. If pilots wouldn't love flying so much, the current working conditions mean there would be no more planes taking off.”

The ECA research makes abundantly clear that bogus self-employment in aviation is more than the avoidance of social security and taxes: the sector's safety is at risk.

The report ends with a call to all stakeholders to take the concerns of airlines and crews seriously. Airlines need flexibility, staff wants more security and there are concerns about unfair competition, not only between companies but also between the pilots themselves. Last but not least, legitimate safety issues give cause for concern. A fair balance between safety provisions and rights of employers and employees is therefore very important.

Nienke Groenendijk, March 2015

Source: Atypical employment in aviation: final report

Do you also want pay-to-fly to end? Please fill out the petition now.

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Paying to work is fine

It is! Baltic Aviation Academy (BAA), in the lucidity of its great wisdom, blessed us today with the ultimate knowledge.

Imagine for a second you're a professional pilot and your airline provides you with a horrendous bond program, this means you'd be forced to fly by getting paid for it... for years (dear lord, no!)!

Fear not, wage slave, for BAA found the way to give your "independence" [sic] back! To rid yourself of that mischievous "control" [sic] where your are "absolutely in their service" [sic] (oh my god)!
All you have to do is pay to work, and you will enter the realm of "luxury", a whole new world, "choosing the airline which you would love to work for and ability to focus on the job which will bring you everyday pleasure" [sic].

Luxury, love, pleasure... and unicorn kitties. All hail the new normal!


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The last hour in the sun

This is what it's like to become a pilot today.

"The last hour in the sun is a graduation documentary made by Suzanne Jansen in 2014.
In The last hour in the sun, director Suzanne Jansen portrays her brother Emile – a talented pilot – who has been looking for employment for over six years. Ever since the economic crisis, it has become very hard for graduated pilots to find a job in aviation. Left with a high student debt and rising costs, some of them are forced to give up on their dream. As is Emile. The last hour in the sun shows the origin of his passion.
Flying enchanted him, it was carefree. Just how different is that feeling, years later, now his pilot's license has expired and his student debt torments him - and our parents? A documentary about letting go of expectations and the ongoing exploration which comes next."

The DVD is available for a fee, funds gathered for the acquisition of the video will go partly to Emile.


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Job insecurity: SNPL press release

As we were there to defend young pilots' interests during the ECA conference on "atypical employment forms" (this 12-13 of february), before covering it ourself, here is the SNPL take on the conference. Goal, purpose, findings... the following is their angle on the event:

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Abusive copyright claim?

This one is for the record. Received today 4th of february, a copyright infringement notice dropped in our mailbox, where a NY based entity named "Believe Entertainment" claimed ownership of some of the material included in the French National public TV program on "pay to fly".

This injunction triggered the unavailability of said TV report on youtube, for both cockpitseeker and Stop "Pay to Fly" that also uploaded the video.

Restriction should be lifted this march 6th 2015



The article AEROSPACE granted us recently, delivered a precedent concerning actions that promote fair training-&-job access, where a mother induced new regulations in her country for around 40 professions. To the best of our knowledge, this is what happened.

Spearheading the initiative in 2009 (if not before), a website called FairPlane (now unreachable) was crafted by a Jane Desforges whose son, Ollie, was offered a place on a part-sponsored scheme with UK regional airline Flybe that left her with six weeks to find around £65,000.

By then, remortgaging her home as security to access funding, it dawned on her pilots were not formed unless strongly financially backed, ruling out potentially promising yet less endowed candidates. Without student recognition, cadets weren’t eligible for financial support from the Government (no possibilities to open a student bank account).

Following her petition to the PM, in 2009, in order to face the issue with Matthew Hancock, minister in the "Skills and Innovation" Department , she teamed up with MP David Laws (they both appear on the picture below -Mr Law 1st on the left) along with BALPA that, in June 2010, supported her campaign in their "The Log" quarterly release (see .pdf below).

By July 2010 an open letter (prepared in Nov. 2009) was shared so anyone could alert their MP (Member of Parliament). By september the same year, she presented a parent's view on the industry in a conference held in London before the RAeS (Royal Aeronautical Society) that resulted in a first publication later that month, where she was asked to join a workgroup to "look into ways of tackling the current problem of funding for student pilots".

Three months later (in Dec. 2010) , Lembit Öpik, then a MP, officially supported FairPlane's campaign (here below), after having already heard of it the year before, as reported in 2009 Flight Training News magazine issue of october (website out of service).

At some point, talks were also engaged with Simon Witts, former director of Flybe’s training academy (where Mrs Desforgers' son applied, as we said).

May 2011 is when the campaign was heard of again, with an emphasis on "pay to fly" in RAeS' second publication on the topic.

Announced by the BBC in June 2012 and covered again by Flight Training News in their Nov. 2012 issue, at long last, apprenticeship schemes in the UK came out.

With the program open for enrolment on October 26th 2013 (developed by Aviation Skills Partnership and Middlesex University with CTC as a 1st partner), it took 5 years for Mrs Desforges to induce countrywide changes with those "higher apprenticeships" that were about to concern, not only airline pilots, but a total of up to 40 areas (including engineers, lawyers...).

With France also investigating the "apprenticeship" lead, it is worth underlying "pay to fly" is still alive and well, thank you very much.

Though undoubtedly this time, 38,000 European pilots sure are going to make a bigger difference than 1 person, or are we?

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Royal Aeronautical Society & Pay2Fly

As alluded to a few years ago, published by the Royal Aeronautical Society magazine formerly known as "Aerospace International" (AI - now called AEROSPACE) in the May 2011 edition, we wish to thank publicly the Editor in Chief, Tim Robinson, for the fair use of his in depth article on Pay to fly schemes, "Con air?".

Con: /kɒn/ late 19th century abbreviation of "confidence", as in "confidence trick".
To Persuade (someone) to do or believe something by lying/telling something false to them, usually so that that person will give you their money or possessions. To deprive of by deceit. To deceit, to trick, to extort, to scam, to defraud...

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