The Air Corps should have a total strength of 850, but is currently short 101 personnel. It should have 100 pilots, but is operating with just 70, and there are less than half the number of technicians required.
A number of pilots are flying aircraft which are twice their age and it is estimated that by 2022 half of the pilots will have less than five years’ flying experience. It can take up to four years to properly train a pilot.
Senior commanders in the Air Corps are being forced to fly missions to plug gaps created by personnel who have left for more lucrative and less stressful jobs in the private sector.
Young Air Corps pilots earn around €35,000 a year. This can rise to between €50,000 and €70,000. But the Irish Coast Guard is offering an extra €50,000 a year for pilots and providing them with better conditions.
Meanwhile, the Air Corps will find it increasingly hard to attract new pilots and keep them. Ryanair plans to take on around 2,000 pilots and Aer Lingus is looking to recruit a further 300 over the next two years.
Members of RACO, which represents 1,100 officer across the Defence Forces, have highlighted serious problems in the Air Corps.
At the RACO conference its general secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Earnan Naughton, called for the reintroduction of a special incentivised payment to keep pilots. It was introduced in 2006, but dropped four years later.
He said while the scheme was running “the turnover of pilots reduced to normal trends, with a predictable and manageable balance to recruitment and retention”.
He said the withdrawal of the scheme, along with pay cuts, “had resulted in a continued exodus of experienced pilots, leaving key operational gaps”.
The Air Corps has eight training aircraft. On one day recently, all of them were out of action due to mechanical and technical issues. Half or more of these aircraft are normally grounded at any one time.
The depleted number of mechanics and technicians are under pressure to get them back into the air, but senior commanders will not rush them as they don’t want mistakes made which could ultimately cost lives. A 2015 White Paper on Defence proposed the two Casa aircraft be replaced in 2019.