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Twelve NATO allies – Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Spain, Türkiye and the United Kingdom – agreed on 25 March 2024 to further expand military aviation training across the alliance through the NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE) initiative.

This will include the first ever placement of around 50 student pilots in four locations beginning this year, the addition of nine new training campuses, as well as the establishment of a dedicated industry advisory body.

The NFTE aims to fundamentally change the way NATO nations train the full range of aircrews, including pilots for jets, helicopters, and remotely piloted air systems (RPAS), while also further promoting unity within the alliance.

“Unity doesn’t just happen; it has to be earned,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană was quoted as saying in a NATO press release. “One way of achieving this is by systematically training together and forging trusting relationships in the process. NATO Flight Training Europe is an excellent example of this. This important multi-national effort will help us to break down national silos towards a shared approach to training the next generations of aircrews.”

With the latest expansion of the number of training campuses to 14 locations, the NFTE is now facilitating training in seven allied countries.

The rapid growth of the NFTE has attracted interest from other NATO nations not yet involved, with several allies expected to join it in the first half of 2024.

The NFTE was officially launched as a ‘High Visibility Project’ by 11 allies in the margins of the meeting of NATO defence ministers in June 2020 with the signature of the corresponding Letter of Intent (LoI); Belgium became the 12th participant by signing an amendment to the LoI in February 2021). This provided the framework for interested allies to systematically explore and develop the NFTE concept further. Under the LoI work focused on the more detailed questions associated with establishing the NFTE: determining all national requirements; cataloguing existing training capacities on the territory of participating countries; outlining the governance structures for the NFTE; as well as determining the composition and features of specific campuses, standardised training syllabi and potential contractual provisions to engage with industry.

Based on this extensive and thorough preparatory work the participants’ defence ministers signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the NATO Summit in June 2021. The MoU fully established the NFTE governance structure and architecture, therefore paving the way for designating and opening the first NFTE training campuses.

In December 2021 the participants officially designated the Flight Training Center (CLV) in Pardubice, Czech Republic, and the International Flight Training School (IFTS), located in Decimomannu, Italy, as the initial two NFTE training campuses.

In January 2023, three training sites – in Greece, Hungary and North Macedonia – were added to NFTE project. The 120th Air Training Wing in Kalamata, Kecskemet Air Base and the Air Training Center near Skopje respectively joined the campuses in the Czech Republic and Italy on the list of official training sites for the Alliance’s military pilots.

The NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE) initiative has the dual effect of training aircrew and also promoting alliance unity. (Photo: NSPA)