I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The situation that arose with regard to the Pilot Training College, PTC, Waterford, in July 2012 was most regrettable and came about from the failure of the PTC, a privately-owned and operated flight training school, that reneged on its contractual obligations to its client students in respect of the completion of their training in Florida. I met some of the representatives of the students on 20 July 2012 and fully appreciate the frustration felt by the students involved and their families. I sympathise with their plight. Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, many businesses have failed, leaving their suppliers, etc., out of pocket, including businesses where a State body has a regulatory role.
It is important, however, that the role of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, with regard to the oversight of pilot training colleges is properly understood. The IAA appeared before the Oireachtas joint committee on 24 October 2012 to discuss the issue of the PTC among other topics and the committee received a very full account from the IAA of its role and the actions it had taken in so far as its statutory responsibilities were concerned. The IAA has responsibility for approving and overseeing flight training organisations in Ireland. The authority's primary functions in this regard are the oversight of the safety, quality and standard of the training being delivered, the conduct of examinations and flight tests. It considers whether the company has sufficient resources to safely provide the training required to the internationally determined standards. It has no involvement in, or responsibility for, the contractual arrangements between the PTC and its students or for overseeing the financial viability of the company. The IAA's role in the approval and oversight of flight training organisations is based on European rules. Unfortunately, the PTC is not an isolated example. There have been examples of failures of similar organisations in other countries in the past decade as well, for example, in the United Kingdom where the UK Civil Aviation Authority approves the operation of flight training organisations, a number of flying schools ceased operations with students suffering losses.
The question has been raised as to whether such companies should be bonded. This is not common practice in other jurisdictions and to introduce such a scheme in Ireland would be likely to result in schools leaving this jurisdiction to set up elsewhere where there are no bonding requirements. That is, however, still under consideration. When it appeared before the committee in October, 2012, the IAA outlined the very significant steps it had taken in an attempt to help the students involved.
When the IAA was notified on 26 June 2012 that the Florida Institute of Technology was ceasing all training activities due to non-payment for services delivered, including room and board and that the matter had been referred to the institute’s attorneys, the IAA immediately sent a representative to Florida to liaise with the students and offer assistance where possible. The IAA secured the training records of all the students and all flight and ground training carried out in California up to then was credited towards the students’ final qualifications where possible. The IAA also worked successfully with other flight training centres to explore how the students involved might complete their training elsewhere at as reasonable a cost as possible. Furthermore, with my agreement, the IAA funded the flight costs of those self-financing students in Florida who had an existing contract with the PTC and who wished to leave the United States of America. The offer was made as a gesture of goodwill and without prejudice. I understand some 65 students availed of this flight home at the time.
The IAA completed several audits of the PTC in 2011 and 2012. During these various inspections it was clear that the PTC complied with all EU and international requirements as a flight training organisation. There was no indication of any deficiencies. Those EU and international requirements state clearly that the financial evaluation carried out as part of the approval and oversight process is not intended to be a consumer protection provision. It focuses purely on safety resources requirements that staff are suitably qualified and the proper internationally determined standards of training are being delivered. The PTC’s accounts were signed off on 29 August 2011 by professional auditors and were not qualified in any way. The accountants were satisfied that the group, including the PTC, would continue as a going concern.
Regrettably, as I said to the representative group on 20 July, neither the Government nor the IAA will be able to compensate them for moneys lost and we have no liability in this regard. While we have great sympathy for the students and their families, it was not possible to isolate them from other PTC creditors, foreign or Irish, nor to offer compensation funded by taxpayers to such a group. In July 2012 the High Court appointed an examiner to handle the affairs of the PTC. The IAA worked with the examiner in assessing the options available but on 28 September 2012 the examiner advised the High Court that the final potential investor had withdrawn and the court authorised the liquidation of the PTC
The IAA revoked the approval of PTC Florida on 20 August 2012 and the approval of PTC Waterford when the company was being wound up. I understand the liquidation of the PTC is ongoing in accordance with company law. Any alleged breach of company law is a matter for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.