Scholarships offer young people a route into the aviation industry

Among the tired clichés surrounding aviation is the notion that it’s a rich person’s game.

Of course, there are individuals who have made their way into aviation because they’re lucky enough to have wealthy parents who met their training costs. Equally, I’ve met many pilots who have had to work very hard to raise the money themselves. I won’t forget the flying instructor during my early PPL training who drove a taxi during his hours away from the airfield to make ends meet while he built up his cockpit hours. Visit any private flying club and it’s immediately obvious that some pilots are more than happy to make personal sacrifices in other areas of their lives to dedicate their resources to their hobby.

But what of those keen individuals who see no way to take the first steps due to the financial requirements? How do we convince them that aviation is still worth exploring?

Despite circling back to flying later in life myself, I’ve long been a proponent of scholarships as a route into the industry for motivated young people. Several friends, contacts and colleagues over the years have told me that scholarships were transformative – changing their lives by opening up the world of aviation when they would not otherwise have made it.

In the UK alone, among the schemes on offer there are opportunities from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, the Air League, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the British Gliding Association and the Light Aircraft Association.

In essence, there really is free flying on offer and it is widely available provided you meet the entry criteria and impress the teams who award the scholarships. A good rule of thumb is being able to demonstrate a genuine and serious ambition and ability to pursue an aviation-related career. Don’t forget that the military still recruits and trains many pilots and other aircrew roles each year. If you’re successful, your training will be at the taxpayers’ expense, although you are committing to fulfilling a minimum period of public service in exchange for the flying.

What’s more, there are large sums of money allocated to scholarships. In the past decade, the Air League has awarded scholarships worth more than £2 million, and it and hands out more than 100 opportunities every year. It merely seeks individuals who ‘have a passion for aviation and aerospace and the determination to succeed’.

And there are several bodies that go above and beyond with their entry requirements to ensure that a diverse pool of potential aviators can access free training opportunities. Two stellar examples are disabled flying charity Aerobility and the British Women Pilots’ Association. The latter plays an important role and focuses on boosting female participation. Other awards concentrate on gliding – still regarded as an excellent and cost-effective way to get into aviation – and Flight Instructor ratings for those who want to pass on their love of flying to others or who simply enjoy the idea of teaching.

It is important to push this message of flying training being open and available to everyone as we seek to rebuild an industry that’s been battered by the global pandemic. We also need people who are going to play key roles in the future decarbonisation of aviation. Learning to fly is one way of solidifying a passion – which inevitably fades – into a real and lasting purpose.

Too many people who are curious about flying are being turned away by the mere thought of the potential costs involved. Imagine if more of them realized that they could be assisted on their journeys with access to a large and growing pool of funding. 

So, if there are young people in your network who you think might benefit or need encouragement, let them know about the opportunities out there. Someone has to be awarded one of these many scholarships. It may as well be them.

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