Flying Schools — [Sir Robert Syms in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 12 September 2023.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 2:30, 12 September 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered flying schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I am grateful to colleagues who have come along to contribute. On the face of it, this is quite a niche subject, but it has implications beyond constituencies, such as mine, that contain flying schools.

My interest is primarily because of Shoreham airport in my constituency—Shoreham airport, not Brighton City airport as it was somehow re-christened at some stage. It is the oldest commercial airport in the United Kingdom, founded in 1910, and the oldest purpose-built airport in the world still in operation. It mostly operates leisure flights. It has an art deco terminal building, often used for films and by air-related businesses. It encompasses helicopter training and fixed-wing pilot training.

Shoreham was known for its air show until the tragic air crash of 2015, in which 11 men sadly lost their lives and which I have raised before in the House. It was the end of what had been a very successful air show over the previous 28 years. Shoreham has had a flying school there since 1913, most recently operated by Flying Time Aviation Ltd, which was founded in 2006 but ceased trading in May this year. At its height, Shoreham was responsible for something like 6% or 7% of all the pilot licences granted in the United Kingdom. It was a very important place for people learning to fly.

As I said, my interest goes beyond Shoreham airport and my constituency. There are implications in what has happened there and elsewhere for the future of integrated flying schools across the country and the future capacity of the United Kingdom to train pilots sufficiently. No fewer than three major flying schools have gone bust in the last 10 months alone. The first, back in May, was the FTA flying school in Shoreham, which employed more than 12 instructors and had 160 students, typically paying up to £90,000 for a full pilot training course.

In November last year, Bournemouth Commercial Flight Training, the flying school at Bournemouth airport, founded in 2002, ceased trading. Tayside Aviation, based at Dundee airport—I am very pleased to see Chris Law here—founded in 1968, ceased trading in April 2023, just before Shoreham. It was a large training school, employing around 45 instructors, with 140 students. It offered pilot training for RAF pilots as well. This is a national issue. It is not just about Shoreham airport, which otherwise is a perfectly well-run airport.

Looking at the figures, we can see the looming problem. Back in 2015, around 2,500 commercial pilot licences were issued in this country. The prediction for this year is down to 500. We are losing a lot of capacity, and those three flying schools alone are responsible for a large chunk of that capacity. Hundreds of students are finding themselves seriously out of pocket because their flying school has gone down either before they started their course, having paid their fees up front, or mid-way through the course.