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Fears that flight school dream could crash

PILOT PLANS: 21-year-old Caolán McGarry from Lagmore has been unable to borrow tuition fees PILOT PLANS: 21-year-old Caolán McGarry from Lagmore has been unable to borrow tuition fees
By Michael Jackson

A YOUNG Lagmore man who has obtained a place at a prestigious flight school in Cork has told how he is unable to borrow tuition fees for the course because he is from the North of Ireland.
After a gruelling three years of effort and setbacks, 21-year-old Caolán McGarry was accepted to the Atlantic Flight Training Academy in January 2019, describing it as “the greatest accomplishment” of his life.
“Three years of hard work and three years of knock backs all came good,” he said.
Caolán was inspired to become a pilot after his late grandfather, who passed last month, took him to an airport as a child. He is due to start his pilot training in September and must pay €79,000 to pay for his tuition, but said he unable to borrow the fees because he lives in Belfast.
While students at the Atlantic Flight Training Academy can typically borrow their fees from the Allied Irish Bank, whose subsidiary First Trust Bank operates in the North, Caolán said the bank rejected his loan application based on his residency.
“The First Trust and AIB, despite being part of the same group, have different policies,” he said.
“We went down to AIB in April and everything was looking good. They said they could give us the money and I wouldn’t have to pay the loan back until I graduated. They took everything down, we told them we were from Antrim, and then they rang the next day and said they thought we were from County Louth. Then they said they didn’t cover Northern Ireland. After coming so close it was another big knockback for me.”
Caolán said he has approached virtually every other bank in Ireland but, despite his Irish citizenship, has faced similar rejections based on his residency or the jurisdiction of the flight school.
“It kind of feels like your own country is against you,” he said.
“You go to the other banks down there and they tell you the same thing – because you’re from the North they can’t help you. The banks up here tell me that they can’t deal with it because it’s across the border, but they have banks across the border as well.”
He continued: “If you were going into this industry blind, not knowing what it’s about, the first thing you would say is that it’s for people with money. I spoke to other people about how they paid for their training – most of them said ‘mum and dad signed a cheque’.
“I come from a one parent family, it’s just me and my mum, so she’s had to go to all of these assessments with me because I was only out of school. There is no help for us there. They blame it on Brexit, they blame it on recession, but there is no help at all.”
In a desperate bid to achieve his dream, Caolán has started a GoFundMe page in a bid to raise £30,000, and said his mum is intent on remortgaging her home to pay the remainder of the fees.
“It would be devastating if I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“After I pass it’s only valid for a year, so I would have to repeat everything again. I would do it because it’s my passion and it’s my dream, but I don’t want to have to go through it again.”
An AIB spokesperson said: “AIB Group Lending policy for personal customers does not prohibit a customer outside this jurisdiction applying for a personal loan.
“It also does not prohibit a customer applying for a loan through AIB/First Trust to cover an activity taking place outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland/UK. All loan applications are assessed on customers suitability and affordability to repay the loan.
“While we cannot comment on individual customer cases, if the customer is willing to give us details on his loan request we would be happy to investigate further and revert to the customer directly.”

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