Cadet Casey Abadilla, a flight student, operates a flight simulator while wearing a mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Alpha Aviation Group campus in Clark, Pampanga province, Philippines, November 3, 2021. Picture taken November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Cadet Casey Abadilla, a flight student, operates a flight simulator while wearing a mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Alpha Aviation Group campus in Clark, Pampanga province, Philippines, November 3, 2021. Picture taken November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

PAMPANGA — With travel demand expected to grow as countries rush to reopen to international visitors, an aviation school in the Philippines is stepping up its training to try to head off problems from a global pilot shortage.

Travel restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19 have caused major disruption to the aviation sector, with aircraft grounded worldwide and many pilots no longer flying, having been laid off, furloughed or forced to find employment elsewhere.

“The important thing for us to do is to get ourselves prepared and be ahead of the herd,” said Lev Albarece, head of training at Alpha Aviation Group, a pilot school with hubs in the Philippines, Britain and the Middle East.

“We have to be ahead of the line and be ready for the next hiring surge.”

Expanded vaccinations and an easing of restrictions in many countries has seen global demand for flights grow and airlines racing to restart routes after a lengthy hiatus.

Flights in the Philippines fell dramatically at the start of the pandemic, with no signs the country plans to reopen to foreign visitors or business travellers anytime soon.

Only 100 students have enrolled this year at Alpha’s local training facility, a third of pre-pandemic levels, with costly fees and job uncertainty deterring potential pilots.

But at Alpha’s school in Pampanga province, northwest of Manila, its full-motion Airbus flight simulators have been running all day to get trainees ready for real-world scenarios.

The program involves simulators, classroom lectures, and flights in Cessna aircraft.

“Everything is uncertain. To me, there isn’t really a perfect timing to do everything,” said Casey Abadilla, 22, a flight student.

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith with the right amount of courage and hard work and hope for the best.”

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