“Financial struggles actually began at the end of flight training. My car had ended it’s payment plan, I had no job and no earnings, my loan had run out.”
What follows is an account sent to us by a Pilot who wanted to share their own experiences of the unique aspects of a pilot’s lifestyle and training which can create real financial hardship.They make no claims about their experience other than hoping it may be of interest and possible help to other pilots. We are tremendously grateful to them.
I was an Intensive care nurse who desperately wanted a change and to start flying. Seeing myself as ‘older’ compared to many new flying trainees, less experienced in flying and a female (starting a family is something I was considering), I felt my only option for flight training was integrated. Higher rates of employment post course and the fastest way to complete the training justified the hefty price tag. Family could guarantee the flight training loan for me.
Financial struggles actually began at the end of flight training. My car had ended it’s payment plan, I had no job and no earnings, my loan had run out. Cue - my mother taking out other loan in her name for me for survive. Luckily, I was straight back into nursing as regular income started. My flight training loan repayments started coming out in September. I had started a new job and moved to XXXX.
So once things had settled I was paying out £1500 (my rent £400, my flight training £845, my mum loan £220, phone £35). A cold in January - before the six months probation was up left me at - £1800 take home pay that month. This left me £300 for food, petrol, life, car insurance, electricity. I scraped by every month and cried on most pay days. The person that loved any disruption for the £150 bonus we got (the difference between the red and black). It took me a few months to budget and realise how I could live. The months with car insurance and an MOT I was beside myself as there was just no buffer.
Paying off my flight training loan alone meant that effectively my salary was £16800 before tax or £13000 post. Previously, I was in the very fortunate position of buying a house with my ex when nursing. It was rented out and the income just covered the mortgage payments perfectly. So when one tax bill came in from XXXX at £1600 I was completely lost. I sold back every day off I could just to pay that tax bill - fortunately for me there were plenty at that time. However- the lack of leave and worry about my finances left me exhausted. Furthermore, my ex partner did not want to sell when I did and make it impossible for me to do so for a very long time.
The point of explaining my finance in such detail- I was literally just making ends meet but everyone thinks you are a high earner. Everyone thinks you have ‘made it’ working your dream job and a well paid one. Why aren’t you happy?
There is minimal assistance for people on high salaries no matter what there other circumstances are. I personally understand the effect financial difficulties can have. It is a surprisingly emotional and tough place to be. Especially when you feel no one understands and that many people believe pilots earn a fortune. It concerns me how many new starters alone are in the same position - at least with XXXX the upfront cost of starting with them is minimal. In some companies there are reports of pilots living in cars, taking out huge loans, eating just crew food. I also realise how lucky I was - managing to increase overdrafts, alternate credit cards and loans, moving money around just to cover the bills. It was temporary and there was no lasting damage to my credit rating or otherwise - many others are not so lucky and face more serious consequences such a bankruptcy.
Sickness and finances
I know of one FO who is on long term sickness after losing his licence less than 6 months in the company. According to him our base manager has been a great support but the company and BALPA have been far less supportive. BALPA telling him he should get back to work as soon as possible before the company get rid of him. This is someone who has just bought a house in XXXX - ready to settle with his girlfriend and now in such a difficult situation with flight training and mortgage payments to pay. Doctors believe his illness was likely started by stress - how can he begin to recover with all this pressure?
However these financial constraints impact many more decisions across the spectrum. With such a small margin between the cost of living and income when people are positioned away from friends and family - things like starting a family are just not an option. Working part time to facilitate work/ life balance won’t be for a long time. Commuting and living in a place different to where you work is a very common theme among pilots (less so for regional) but definitely still exists. The financial toll of these lifestyles often isn’t considered.
Job certainty is one concern that has been echoed around me recently a lot - how will the company look after Brexit? What is the managements plan? If we have to get a new job will we have to move house, our family and lives? Is there the certainty to build a future in one place?
There are many different aspects to financial pressures as listed above and it is so hard to list them all. We must be aware that everyones causes can be drastically different and could be a world apart from ours. And the presentation of these problems can be different: poor credit rating - difficulty in securing finances, pay day loans, debt collectors, family tensions.
In the end however, pilots, if they can make it through should be well off financially with the general population. We do have many positives to utilise - good private healthcare, legal aid, unions who can negotiate (some form of pay rise), being a skilled profession is transferable.
BALPA Benevolent Fund
BALPA Financial Services
The only thing that worries me - many people are more understanding of a newly qualified pilot on their first job. Despite the very little lack of realistic help. However - apart from medical complications causing you to lose your license it seems that there really is no assistance out there. There is a lot of help to advise you as a pilot how to invest and fix your pension, for other problems this is not there.
“Grants and loans are and can be made to assist in the rehabilitation of people after accidents or enable them to regain licences. However, the Trustees do not grant or loan money for the repayment of debts or long-term expenses such as school fees, prolonged medical care or for obtaining professional pilots’ licences and ratings.” Still though not enough to help so many people that may be struggling.
Pilot experience - Finances