Ask the Aviation Attorney: Pilot Promissory Note vs. Training Agreements

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Joseph Michael Lamonaca, Esquire, ATP. Contact him at (610) 558-3376 or [email protected]

Our previous post about Pilot Training Agreements and Pilot Promissory Notes featured aviation lawyer Joe Lamonaca, an ATP himself, who gave us some great advice on when our pilots should have these documents reviewed by an attorney. (Check out that post for Joe’s expert advice on when to sign Training Agreements.)

To review, Pilot Training Agreements (sometimes called Training Contracts) have become popular among employers. Unfortunately for all of us, some unethical pilots took a new job, went to school on the employer’s dime and then suddenly left the job for a better opportunity. These employers felt burned when they were left holding the training bill with nothing to show for the money spent.

Pilot Training Agreements and Pilot Training Contracts were brought into vogue to attempt to prevent this practice. It’s an agreement to pay back the cost of training if the pilot leaves the employer within a specified period of time. Unfortunately for pilots, these types of agreements are now being used to strong-arm pilots into unfair working situations. Instead of increasing pilot pay, improving working conditions or pilot schedules, some unscrupulous employers are just roping pilots in through unfair Training Contracts.

We’ve recently heard that Promissory Notes are becoming even more popular than Training Agreements. Promissory Notes are easier to enforce legally than training contracts, almost like what you sign when you sign your mortgage. It’s a promise to pay back the money spent on your training, and very hard to get out of, even with a lawyer’s help.

Reasons Why

According to Joe Lamonaca, Aviation Lawyer and ATP himself, Training Contracts are the first level of defense by pilot employers. They’re ambiguous and hard to enforce. They’re often vague about how much pilots are expected to repay. Training locations and companies weren’t specified because oftentimes employers were negotiating training specifics themselves. Would their annual contract include 1 pilot or 20? Would the price include lodging? All of these specifics had to be nailed down.

Promissory Notes allow things like payment amounts to be very specific in terms of timing, interest, and term. If breached, Promissory Notes require you go to court and get a judgement just like if you took out a loan from the bank and failed to repay it. These are harder to overturn in court simply because they are so specific.

Confessions of Judgement are the most stringent. In our previous post on the topic, Joe advised pilots to never sign these, under any circumstances.

Word to the Wise

“The problem is that people are just signing these things,” Joe told BizJetJobs. “Employers are now making pilots sign one every time they go to recurrent training. Even senior people who are good employees with a great work ethic are required to sign. The whole reason Pilot Training Contracts came into vogue was to prevent an unknown new employee from taking advantage of a company. But these days dedicated employees are put through this. It doesn’t seem fair.”

For example, let’s say your employer wants, even requires you to get training in another aircraft. Even in these types of situations, pilots are also being required to sign a training agreement, which doesn’t make sense.

The Takeaway

Pilots, you may not be advised about Training Agreements or Promissory Notes when you are hired. You may not even be advised about them when you are presented with one, you may just be expected to sign! Some of the cases Joe has worked on involve pilots who had no clue they’d need to sign other training agreements for their recurrent trainings, or when the employer requires them to be typed in another aircraft. “These pilots were presented with an ultimatum: sign this or you’re out of here,” says Joe. “None of them knew this would be the case when they took the job.”

So in the interview, or when presented with that first Training Contract, ask your employer: do you require a training contract every time, or just this one?

Maybe you can swallow this first one, but would you want to sign another in 3-5 years?

Decide whether or not you would like to sign the first one (maybe you don’t want to!), and if you have any doubts, have a lawyer who specializes in aviation law like Joe review it.

If you have questions about training agreements or other legal questions, Joe is on the East Coast and just a phone call or email away. Reach out directly to him via email at jlamo[email protected], or visit his website for phone numbers and more information about his practice. If you have other questions about training agreements, give us a call at BizJetJobs and we’ll point you in the right direction.