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Tide turns as grounded commercial pilots seek roles with Flying Doctor

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The Royal Flying Doctor Service has seen hundreds of applications for pilot jobs with sector-wide unemployment rates rising.

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The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) has received hundreds of applicants for pilot job roles that, in the past, were lucky to see more than 30 people express interest.

Head of flying operations, Shane Lawrey, said with pilots previously employed by Qantas and Virgin Australia out of work he has seen a dramatic rise in interest for the RFDS regional positions.

Lawrey said in 2017 the RFDS lost 22 per cent of their 200 pilots to commercial airlines.

“We’re always recruiting, sort of continuously, but back in September 2017 there was a bit of a pilot shortage where the airlines picked up activity and a few of our staff decided to move that way,” he said.

“We have been basically catching up ever since because the aviation market has been quite buoyant, however the COVID situation has turned that around quite dramatically.”

A recently advertised position for a pilot to live and work in the Mount Isa region in Queensland’s northwest attracted 250 applications.

“All in all that is substantial given the previous undersupply of pilots before,” he said.

“To paint a picture, back in 2017 we put an ad out and I think we got about 36 applicants.”

Coronavirus-related job spike

Lawrey said the RFDS in particular have been fortunate to secure extra funding during COVID-19 to employ more pilots.

“We have expanded by four pilots, which isn’t a huge amount — but we’ve taken that as an opportunity to take advantage of the market at the moment,” he said.

“That said it’s not unusual for us get all different sorts of pilots applying for us.

“We’ve had a 25,000-hour Qantas pilot, an A330 captain fly for us out of Qantas for a number of years, after taking a sabbatical from Qantas.”

– ABC / Kemii Maguire and Kelly Butterworth

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