Air force predicts bright future despite brain drain
The Czech air force has been substantially scaled down over the last decade - from around 1,000 trained pilots in 1993 to 400 today. The reduction is part of a general package of reform, but many pilots have taken the decision to leave themselves, disillusioned with deteriorating conditions and frequent reorganisation. A new study commissioned by the force makes depressing reading - last year alone 60 pilots chose to go. Most of them were older and more experienced - just the sort of people the air force cannot afford to lose. So why the brain drain? A question my colleague Rob Cameron put to Major Petr Sykora, the spokesman for the Czech air force command.
"First of all I think it's quite clear that our armed forces - including the air force of course - have been deeply changed during the last ten years. We had to reduce not only the number of military aircraft but also the quantity of air bases and military and civilian personnel, including pilots and technicians. This was in order to be more effective, to use our resources properly and also to be able to become a NATO member. One the one hand, many of our pilots finished their military career for their own private reasons, but also because some of them were very disappointed, especially due to the very long and hard process of reduction."
Right - but why are they disappointed, what has made them so disappointed?
"Well, this process wasn't very short, and it was really very hard, and this reduction and reorganisation - from their point of view - was without a final vision, or target."
Also one hears in the media reports of pilots sitting around in the base with nothing to fly, or they have planes to fly but there's no fuel to fly the planes. They sit around doing textbook exercises and so on, but they can't actually fly. Is that accurate do you think?
"Hmm. Generally speaking I think you're right, but on the other hand, despite of many problems, we are able not only to protect our airspace and our country, but also to participate in NATO exercises and NATO integrated air defence systems."
You're a career soldier, what is the mood like among pilots in the Czech air force?
"Well, we're waiting for a final decision from our new government concerning the new supersonic aircraft for our forces, and our pilots are working very hard right now."
But you were referring there I think to the new Gripen JAS aircraft - the Czech air force hopes to take delivery of 24 new Gripens I believe. It's not 100 percent sure that that will happen. If you don't get the Gripens, how will that affect the mood in the Czech air force?
"It's not necessary to have Gripens. For us it's very important to have new supersonic aircraft, and what kind of supersonic aircraft - Gripen, Eurofighter and so on - is not so important for us right now. But I'm quite sure that without this kind of supersonic aircraft it's not possible to use our air forces properly and be a good member of NATO. In my opinion, I don't expect any serious problems with recruiting pilots. For example young people - not only men but also girls - are very interested in becoming military pilots, and we have approximately several hundred candidates for our military pilot academy each year. So generally speaking, I think that the future for our armed forces and the Czech air force is quite clear and good."