Covid: Pilots 'facing tsunami of debt' in pandemic

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James Atkins-Quilter had been in his dream job for three years when the pandemic struck

A former Gatwick pilot who lost his job during the pandemic and now faces huge debts for his flight training has said his industry has been "forgotten".

James Atkins-Quilter and his wife were also evicted from their home while expecting their first child.

It can cost more than £130,000 to train to become a commercial pilot, with new starters self-funding with loans.

The 35-year-old said: "We're struggling to find money for living costs, let alone paying back the flight training."

When the pandemic struck Mr Atkins-Quilter had been in his dream job for three years, but he said the situation he and his wife found themselves in now was "almost unimaginable" eight months ago.

"Lots of other pilots in my situation are going through the same thing," he added.

'Tsunami of debt'

The charity, Pilots Together, was recently launched to help those facing financial difficulties, and its co-founder Ian Walker said it was a misconception that new pilots were highly paid.

"Pilots very new to the industry... are going to be facing a tsunami of debt with the training loans they need to pay back," he said.

"We've had over 200 pilots register with us. Over 100 of those pilots could well be in severe financial stress very, very soon."

It is estimated that 6,000 jobs associated with Gatwick have been lost as a result of the pandemic.

Mr Atkins-Quilter, who is currently working as a delivery driver, remains positive that one day he will be able to return to his job.

"It's heartbreaking but it's something that we've had to try and come to terms with and just keep trying to do our best to get through it," he said.

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