Air Corps cadets on the ground for a year before learning to fly

Representative body claims manpower and skillset levels falling in Defence Forces

Commissioning ceremony of Army, Air Corps and Maltese officers: RACO says terms and conditions of service must be improved.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Commissioning ceremony of Army, Air Corps and Maltese officers: RACO says terms and conditions of service must be improved. Photograph: Alan Betson


New Aer Corps trainee pilots could take up to five years to earn their wings because the force does not have enough useable training aircraft, or instructors, military officers have maintained.

Officers maintained that Air Corps cadetships in the future could take up to five years to complete, twice as long as previously.

In a submission to the Public Service Pay Commission, the Representative Association for Commissioned Officers (RACO) also maintained the officer strength number in the Army was at its lowest since 1969 and that in the Naval Service there was a real prospect that a vessel may not be able to embark as ordered or to carry out its operational capabilities at sea due to personnel shortages.

RACO argued that terms and conditions of service must be improved if the Defence Forces were to retain experienced skillsets while competing with the more favourable pay and pensions of other public and private sector employers.

The Public Service Pay Commission is currently examining recruitment and retention difficulties being experienced in both the health and defence sectors and will produce reports later in the year.

On Monday, The Irish Times reported the Department of Defence had recommended in a submission to the Public Service Pay Commission that a loyalty bonus scheme be reintroduced to try to stem the departure of pilots from the Air Corps.

Under a previous service commitment scheme ended a number of years ago, some personnel received up to €22,000 in addition to salary to encourage them to remain in place.

Cadet School

RACO said that, at present, Air Corps cadets received nine months’ training in the Cadet School prior to reporting to Air Corps’ Fight School for the second phase of their training, which involved ground school study and pilot exams. It said this phase lasted anywhere between nine months and a year and was completed prior to the cadet commencing the third phase, which involved approximately 100 flights in the PC-9M aircraft.

“There are capacity constraints in training pilots, particularly in respect of providing serviceable aircraft and flying instructors, which entails that larger classes take longer to train. Present forecasts indicate that the Air Corps cadetship which previously took 2.5 years may take the most recently inducted class a period of between 4.5 and five years to complete. The backlog of training due to increased numbers of cadets will also result in extended periods where cadets, having completed their ground school phase, will be required to wait for extended periods until aircraft become available, possible in excess of one year.”

The association said that “while the induction of large cadet classes in the Air Corps is to be welcomed, it will not impact on pilot shortages for some considerable period and cannot, at this juncture, be considered as a solution to the deficit of pilots. It should further be recognised that solely relying on the training of new inductee pilots in the Air Corps to replace those retiring will not retain the valuable experience or training outlay accumulated by its serving pilots.”

Retention policies

RACO also maintained the strength figure for officers in the Army at 788 was the lowest it had been since 1969.

“This figure will continue to decline until retention policies are developed and larger cadet classes are commissioned. What is also clear is that the shortage of officers at lieutenant, captain and commandant ranks will continue for a significant period until larger cadet classes are commissioned. In effect, this will not be resolvable until at least 2024/2025, unless timely high-impact interventions are made and functional initiatives are introduced.”

The association said there was a 30 per cent vacancy level on the panel for bomb-disposal officers who now faced seven days’ continuous duty every three weeks. It also said that the Naval Service had insufficient crews for the size of the fleet.