Lao Skyway experience: cadet programmes help to actually retain pilots


Recently, BAA Training launched a new helicopter cadet programme with Lao Skyway, a private airline with its headquarters in Laos, offering helicopter and fixed wing aircraft charter services. We invited Channoula Lotouthoum, Acting Training Manager at Lao Skyway, for a short interview about the challenges in the helicopter charter industry and reasons for choosing the cadet programme. C. Lotouthoum says that the majority of Lao Skyway pilots work at the company until the retirement. Find out more about the recipe for employee retention in the interview below.

Now the aviation market is widely discussing the immense shortage of pilots. Do you see the same tendency reflected on the helicopter pilots’ market?

The helicopter pilots’ market is also experiencing pilot shortage, even though we have noticed the decreasing demand of helicopter charter services in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) area. We used to be involved in many projects related to helicopters’ charter flights, but now there are some companies that switch to small and medium fixed wing aircraft instead of helicopters. The main argument for this, according to some clients, is that the maintenance of a small runway is a more economical solution than acquisition and support of a helicopter. However, for some industries helicopter services are inevitable. For example, power line maintenance and various emergency situations cannot be handled without helicopters. Therefore, I don‘t think that a dramatic decrease in helicopter services occurs. As a consequence, these pilots will certainly be on demand in the upcoming years and we will experience even greater helicopter pilots’ shortage.

Are there many future pilots interested particularly in a helicopter pilot’s career? What are their career opportunities after students graduate?

It is slightly more complicated to find young people who are dreaming about becoming helicopter pilots. This may be caused by a lack of information about career opportunities and the job itself. The overwhelming majority of information on the Internet about aviation is related to airline pilots flying on large commercial jets. Thus it comes as no surprise that the number of people who dream about working as pilots with an airline is much bigger. Career opportunities for helicopter pilots in the Laos’ aviation industry come mainly from contracts with airline supplemented by scholarships. This is one of the ways to attract more people to this industry.

Why did you decide to launch cadet programme in the first place? Is this the first time you initiate cadet programme?

This is not the first time we initiate cadet programme. We had seven such programmes in total. We have launched cadet programmes because it helps us to prepare motivated and determined our own future pilots. In turn, we offer them full scholarship with a contract to join Lao Skyway after the successful completion of the course. Cadet programmes seem to have a huge impact on the average tenure. There is a trend of a long-term work within the company. The fact that the relationship with students is established from the start makes everyone more engaged and the company becomes “the second home”.

Does it mean that cadet pilots are more engaged and stay with the company longer?

Yes, that is actually true. Our statistics shows that all pilots who had received our scholarship work for us until they retire and this is not an obligation, it is a choice made by pilots themselves. This is absolutely rewarding for us as a company. We have motivated, engaged, loyal and professional employees and we do not need to spend time looking for candidates to fill vacancies. We can devote this time for upholding our core values in ensuring flight safety through training programmes, work practices, and risk management.

Is it true that nowadays cadet programmes are one of the most effective instruments for pilot retention in the long term?

Yes, they are one of the most effective instruments for pilot retention in the long term. As I mentioned before, pilots who did cadet programmes work for us practically all their lives. Nowadays, when the competition among the airlines is getting more intense, companies need to find new ways to keep their top employees. In general, cadet programmes are also attractive for future pilots because they reduce the risk of spending time and money and not receiving a job offer. The risk is not completely mitigated, but chances to get a permanent job are much higher. Of course, students need to perform very well. This is one of the key elements in order to secure a flying job.

You chose EASA certificated helicopter training programme. What are the distinctive advantages of it?

We used to send our pilots to several other training centres around the world. Most of them are governed by FAA and ICAO regulations. We were satisfied with the training, communication processes and, of course, auditing stage. However, these certificates are not valid in the European Union. Since we are constantly looking for expansion, we needed pilots who have EASA certificated licences.

Why did you choose BAA Training as a partner for your helicopter cadet programme?

We used to send our helicopter pilots to Oceanian countries, Asia and the United States before. We arrived at the decision to choose BAA Training as a partner in helicopter pilot training due to several advantages. First of all, BAA Training helps evaluate pilots before enrolling them in the programme. They have tools and know-how to help assess the candidates easier. Secondly, the effective teamwork with the representatives of BAA Training and full cooperation enable to attain the best results in terms of training quality. Last but not least, prices are reasonable, if compared to other countries offering EASA approved training standard.

What are Lao Skyway future plans in terms of growth and development?

In a few years, a group of our helicopter pilots will retire. Therefore, we will invest in preparing new pilots and launch more helicopter cadet programmes because we believe that helicopter charter market will be continuously increasing in the next few years.