Cebu Pacific wants millennials to study how to fly a plane

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

Words by

Digital Reporter

Millennials are no strangers to Cebu Pacific, the Gokongwei-led airline that posted a net income of P7.91 billion for 2017. But while most would satiate their wanderlust by booking a piso-fare flight, a select few push their luck further: by studying how to fly a Cebu Pac plane.

“Flying a plane is something I enjoy because of the technicality behind it. It’s not just about pushing buttons. You have to apply technical lessons and computations,” said Martha de Leon, a 22-year-old aeronautical engineering graduate. She is among the first batch of 16 aspiring pilots under Cebu Pacific’s Cadet Pilot Program who will be sent to Australia for a one-year training.

Cebu Pacific launched the program in October last year, shelling out $25 million that cover all expenses of a total of 240 candidates over a five-year period. From more than 12,500 applicants nationwide, 16 were chosen, including De Leon, as part of the maiden batch. The program was initially aimed to address the airline’s expansion requirements over the next five years.

Under the program, the aspirants will undergo integrated flying training, flight theory, and education courses at Australia’s Flight Training Adelaide. After finishing the training, they will return to the Philippines to complete type-rating and licensing requirements to become commercial pilots. Upon completing the entire program, the cadet pilots will become first officers at Cebu Pacific, flying both domestic and international routes.

At a send-off party last April 10 in Pasay City, she said that she took up aeronautical engineering—a course she finished with honors at PATTS College of Aeronautics—because she thought it was the closest she could get to becoming a pilot.  “But I couldn’t continue pursuing my dream of flying because of monetary problems,” she said.

Successful cadets will secure an employment slot at the airline. They will then reimburse the cost of the program through salary deduction over a period of ten years.

Pilots, navigators and flight engineers are still the highest paying jobs in the country with an average monthly salary of P156,823, according to the Labor Market Trends Report released last year. Salary for an aircraft captain can go as high as P280,000, while a senior captain can earn P350,000.

“There are still people who ask me why I want to study aviation. They often say it’s for the boys,” she pointed out. She “I want to prove to everyone that you can also do a job that men usually do.”

With the lure of travel and the attractive compensation packages, it isn’t surprising that de Leon and her contemporaries are taking the leap towards the cockpit. Twenty-one-year-old Jose Angelo Santos, for example, left his slot at the University of the Philippines College of Law after two semesters of law school to embark on this totally different flight.

“In law school, you have to be prepared everyday because there’s always a recitation, so you have to do your homework, read cases,” he said. “I think it’s the same thing as becoming a pilot. You have to be prepared everyday and you have to be on the top of your game because the responsibility you have [to carry people in the air from point A to point B] is huge.” 

But it’s not just people. As technology changes the way business is done—particularly the boom of e-commerce—transport companies like Cebu Pacific are bound to thrive and contribute to worldwide retail e-commerce sales, which is projected to grow to $4.5 trillion in 2021.

“We need a strong aviation sector to form bridges in the air,” said Samuel Avilla, Cebu Pacific’s vice president for flight operations. “We’re an archipelago. And the fastest way to connect to the islands before was by the sea. But now you have aircrafts and if you don’t have a strong aviation how would you to transport people and goods?”

 Cebu Pacific’s Cadet Pilot Program, he said, aims to contribute to the country’s strong commercial aviation sector by grooming future flight commanders. They are, in his words, “the future leaders” of the industry: “a requirement for nation building.”