Trainee air-traffic controllers with only weeks before graduation have been told their training course is over and they have lost their jobs.
Nats, the UK air-traffic control provider, is the latest aviation employer to cut jobs.
More than 120 trainees who have yet gained to gain their student licence and be posted to an operational unit have been offered redeployment or a voluntary exit package.
One of them, Trevor Hannant, tweeted: “Gutted at today’s news, finally get my dream job in my late 40s then boom, it’s gone…
“All that work, pain of being away for six months from family and it’s back to square one.”
Mr Hannant has changed his description on Twitter to: “Soon to be ex-Trainee ATCO.”
The controllers’ union, Prospect, has described the move as “a disastrously short-sighted and cruel decision”.
Until the coronavirus crisis, the skies in southeast England were the busiest in the world, with six airports serving London – formerly the world hub of aviation – and a prodigious amount of overflying traffic.
In July, only 11.6 per cent of 2019 passengers flew to or from the UK.
A spokesperson for Nats said: “We currently have 275 trainees who have passed through the college and are waiting to re-start their on-the-job training at units across the country once traffic increases.
“They will provide sufficient controller resource for the next two years and there is no capacity to take more trainees from our college.
“With this in mind, we have taken the very difficult decision to pause training at our college, which means the 122 trainees have until the end of September to decide if they prefer to leave or wait to see if any redeployment opportunities emerge over the course of October.”
Since lockdown, the trainees have been furloughed to take advantage of the government’s job retention scheme. The most recent starters are on apprentice contracts.
Steve Jary, national secretary for Prospect, said: “This is a disastrously short-sighted and cruel decision by Nats to dismiss these trainees, some of whom have just a fortnight left of their course to run.
“The aviation industry is facing unprecedented challenges but simply dismissing these people is not the answer.
.“They are being thrown to the wolves. We have received countless messages from trainee air-traffic controllers in despair: having got through a highly competitive selection process, their dream career is being ripped away from them.
“We have seen in previous downturns that cutting training undermines Nats’ ability to provide a reliable service. It is dangerous to repeat the mistakes of the past by slashing potential air-traffic controller numbers to the point where the industry will be unable to recover after the pandemic.”
The Nats spokesperson said: “We will stay in regular contact with those who want us to and hope we will be able to re-employ them when traffic recovers.”
They will have a guaranteed right to return to NATS when college training restarts.
“Our training college will remain active, supporting the trainees awaiting re-start and providing refresher training for our existing qualified controllers as traffic levels increase.”
The union estimates that Nats spends an average of £150,000 on each trainee.