Travel boom leads British Airways to hire hundreds of extra pilots

Chris Godsmark Business Correspondent
Friday 13 February 1998 00:02 GMT

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British Airways yesterday announced the biggest pilot recruitment drive in its history, with plans to take on almost 2,500 new flight crew. The news is part of a campaign by BA to take on 15,000 staff over the next years.

The move came as the boom in charter airline traffic helped passenger numbers at airports operator BAA, owner of Heathrow and Gatwick, to soar above 7 million in January for the first time.

The recruitment campaign by BA puts new emphasis on attempts to attract female pilots and trainees to its cadet scheme. BA is planning to expand from 3,300 pilots to 4,000 by 2008, but said it also needed to replace 1,500 pilots who were due to retire in the next ten years. It means that between 200 and 300 new pilots will be taken on each year for the foreseeable future.

The carrier expects a huge number of applications to join the cadet scheme, though only around one candidate in 100 will be successful. The last time BA advertised the scheme it received 30,000 replies. Each cadet is sponsored through an 18-month training programme, costing BA pounds 100,000.

In a separate development, a senior BA official expressed confidence that the alliance with American Airlines would win EU regulatory clearance, saying the two sides had come closer to an agreement. "The gap is narrowing, yes, but it still has got some way to go." said Christopher Allen, head of competition and industry affairs, following reports the European Commission said it will delay its ruling until at least March.

He stressed that there was a limit to how many take-off and landing slots the two carriers could afford to surrender in return for Commission approval of the deal.

Meanwhile, BAA, the airports operator, brushed off concerns about the slowdown in growth elsewhere in the economy, with figures showing it handled 7.1 million passengers last month, a rise of 6.9 per cent on the same period in 1997. BAA shares jumped by 13p on the better than expected figures, to 532p.

The biggest surge was in European charter traffic, which grew by 14.4 per cent, while North Atlantic traffic rose by 11.4 per cent. The figures also revealed an unexpected recovery in passenger numbers travelling to Asia, despite the economic crisis in the region.

Stansted Airport showed the biggest surge in numbers last month, as more discount operators offered services. Passengers soared by 17.1 per cent to 335,744, on the back of a 27 per cent increase in European scheduled traffic. BA is using Stansted as the headquarters for its new budget "turn- up-and-go" airline, called Go.

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