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The airline industry is struggling to find pilots as demand for flights fuelled by no-frills airlines continues to grow.

While carriers continue to expand their networks, the soaring cost of aviation fuel is making training increasingly prohibitive, with one estimate putting the cost of getting a license at more than £60,000.

Figures, show the number of UK-registered pilots falling from 2,723 in 2002-3 to 2,400 in 2004-5. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the number of planes taking off from and landing at British airports increased by 6pc in 2004 – the latest year for which figures are available.

British Airways is advertising for pilots, Ryanair is scouring Europe for recruits, and Easyjet has slashed its flying experience requirement from 1,500 to 500 hours.

“Pilots are in demand and cutting flying hours reflects that,” said a spokesman for Easyjet, which has added 50 new routes this year.

According to one source at BA, nobody within the company can remember the airline advertising so extensively. “Ryanair is currently paying more to its Boeing 737 pilots than BA, and with the pension crisis and the retirement age of 60 years, many see little point in joining BA for ‘job security’,” the source said.

Ryanair, which has increased its UK-based routes from 116 last year to 178, is taking on about 300 pilots. The company has held recruitment fairs in a number of European cities and has benefited from shake-outs among some scheduled airlines by taking on staff who have been laid off.

But even Ryanair has struggled to keep up growth towards the end of its “flying year”, which finishes at the end of the month.

Many of its pilots have come close to their 900 maximum annual cockpit hours and action was needed to make sure the company did not run out of flying time. As a result, Ryanair had to cut capacity by 100,000 seats for the first three months of the year.

The company is prepared to pay salaries of up to £100,000 for an experienced pilot as well as share options.

“Experienced airline pilots are in short supply,” said Nick Wilcox, commercial director of Storm Aviation, a company which supplies staff to the aviation industry. “It is extremely busy for this time of year.

We supply a large number of blue-chip airlines and were recently contacted by a low-frills carrier saying they needed a significant number of individuals.”

British-based airlines are in a stronger position than some of their continental rivals because English is the international language of aviation.

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