Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
The Bond Experiment

January 15, 2013  By Neil J. MacDonald

With a new operating season upon us, crews will be looking for jobs and employers will be looking for crews. It sounds pretty simple, right?

With a new operating season upon us, crews will be looking for jobs and employers will be looking for crews. It sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it may be business as usual yes, but that’s only until someone wants you to sign a training bond.

Regardless of whether you’re a pilot or an engineer, training bonds seem to be here to stay. The main concept – where employees either stay for an agreed amount of time, or the employer agrees to pay for a percentage of an employee’s training costs – is not going away any time soon, although the law is evolving.

It seems reasonable that since employees are the ones who will benefit in the long run, they should bear the cost of their own education. It’s no different for many other professionals. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants, for example, spend thousands of dollars to get the skills that allow them to work in their chosen fields.

Pilots and engineers are in much the same boat. Some will come from the military where it can be argued that they had most of their credentials paid for. Of course, it sounds good while they are in the military, but once out, these professionals are in the same situation of having to convert to civilian licences and bear the associated costs.


Modern cockpits in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are more sophisticated than they were in earlier generations, so it takes training to learn the latest systems.

For the most part, many training costs are paid for by an employer. As an example, pilots usually don’t have to pay for a PPC each year. The training bond is an amount the employee agrees to pay back should they decide to leave the company before a specific time.

This is where the law comes into the picture. In order for a bond to be effective in the eyes of the court, it should adhere to the standard conditions of any legal contract. I have written several articles on contracts, so I don’t want to get too in-depth here regarding contract law. The main areas to look for are consideration, which links in with bargaining equality, and the financial and time elements.

Contracts are an exchange of “something”; consideration is the term used to describe this concept. If you already had the training, then were subsequently asked to sign a training bond, that bond “contract” could or should fail for lack of consideration in court. The inequality in bargaining power can also come into play in situations where a junior employee is told they need to sign a bond in order to continue to work. Employers can avoid being off side of the law by laying everything out in advance, in detail.

This is also the case for the financial and time elements. The financial commitment the employee signs on for should reflect the true cost of the training. Courts are reluctant to enforce a contract where an employee is asked to pay well above the actual value of the training costs.

The time an employee is required to stay with the company after training needs to be realistic as well. A five-year term should easily fail the test, while a one- to two-year minimum seems reasonable. Having the employee pay back costs on a pro-rata basis is also common. Divide the cost of training by the number of months you require the employee to stay, and forgive the bond debt by that quotient each month. 

If employers use this type of formula, employees should not be reluctant to sign training bonds as these types of contracts are mutually beneficial. The employer has a trained work force that they can count on for a minimum period, and the employee has an upgraded skillset and an employment commitment from the company. 

We should also mention a note to employers. Sometimes an employee signs on to a training bond and for whatever reason decides to leave early. We should view this as a simple business transaction, and not a personal vendetta. We should not expect the employee to pay the costs of the bond per the above formulas, and move on with bad feelings – never to be hired back again. 

Things happen in life, and people can and do change their minds – or circumstances can also change. If one views these movements as part of the cost of doing business (accounting for those costs properly, of course) training bonds will be viewed as simply a normal part of the education of aviation professionals.

Neil J. MacDonald is a lawyer practising in B.C. He holds an ATPL-H, flew as an IFR offshore aircraft commander internationally and on the B.C. Air Ambulance. He has consulted on quality and safety issues in the Middle East. njm@neiljmacdonald.com This is not a legal opinion. Readers should not act on the basis of this article without first consulting a lawyer for analysis and advice on a specific matter.


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