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Like most other sectors across the country, the aviation industry is likely to experience a significant number of retirements in the near future. Some 18,000 pilots are anticipated to retire over the next three years, and the steep certification requirements – 1,500 hours of flight, by U.S. regulations – are posing limits on supply. This attrition, coupled with a rebounding economy and industry growth, has led to projections of a shortage in the supply of adequately trained commercial pilots domestically and globally.
The industry is at risk of a shortage of fixed-wing pilots with the appropriate knowledge skills and competencies, if the industry recovers as predicted. Smaller, more regional airlines are more likely to be affected, due to their difficulty recruiting. This constriction would severely impact smaller areas of the U.S., wherein smaller lines are the only service providers.
International, non-Western airlines are facing a critical shortage of pilots and technical crew that threatens to stall the rapid growth of their fleets. Certain carriers are ramping up their expansion and investing heavily in new fleets as they look to build the region into a global tourism hub. According to data from the CAE, the global aviation market is expected to expand by 1.6 billion passengers by 2027, for a total of 4.8 billion (over halff of the world’s population). Demand for flight will thus continue to grow. US plane maker Boeing says the Middle East will need 36,000 new pilots and 53,000 new maintenance personnel in order to keep up with its growing fleet. Boeing expects demand for 2,520 jetliners worth $450bn over the next 20 years, led by Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad.
This is but one of the expanding markets. Demand in China is increasing to the point that airlines may need to hire 100 new pilots every week for the next twenty years to meet it. To attract employees, companies are offering very high salaries out of the gate, far exceeding the comparatively meager wages in U.S. markets. This has led to an influx of experienced pilots from territories such as the U.S. and Europe (which are already facing increased retirement rates) to emerging markets; data collected by the CAE held that 10% of all pilots in the Asia-Pacific market were expatriates.
As for major U.S. and European carriers, in about a year the floodgate will open and the current generation will begin to retire in very large numbers. Controversy over the shortage has reached a fever pitch; those opposed to existing regulations argue that they do nothing to improve safety, while ALPA denies that a shortage exists and pins the blame on low minimum wages. Since July 2013, according to ALPA, 25,500 new pilot certificates have been issued. Traditionally, the US has relied on a military-commercial pipeline for pilots, with prospectives joining the Air Force to accumulate hours and switching to commercial when they hit 1,500. However, the Air Force is also suffering a pilot shortage, leaving another source of recruits dried up. The CAE predicts that, between 2017 and 2027, 255,000 new pilots will need to be created worldwide – 105,000 to replace existing pilots, and 150,000 to match industry growth.

Potential hazard

1.      A shortage of pilots and the quality of crew training are two of the biggest concerns.

Consideration needs to be given to the implications of hiring pilots, particularly those flying in complex aircraft and operating environments, with relatively low experience levels.

Asia is facing a VERY serious shortage of pilots. Especially experienced pilots. Yet, they place an upper age limit on that much-needed experience (50-55 in most cases) and have brought into play the multi-crew pilot license (MPL). Should an MPL licensed pilot one day fly a B777 into the approach lights and it is revealed he/she only had 600 hours total flying experience. What then? Is the public going to accept that any more than remote controlled flights or flights with a single pilot? Single pilot with an MPL?

Corroborating sources and comments

2014 NBAA Top Safety Focus Areas:

Talent Pipeline: The forecasted shortage of business aviation professionals will create challenges in attracting, developmental mentoring, and retaining new professionals who can safely manage, maintain, service, and fly business aviation into the future.

A pilot shortage is forecast for the near future. For scheduled airlines, the problem is compounded by pilots reaching age 65 and mandatory retirement starting in December 2012, and copilots require 1500 hours beginning August 2013. Commercial operators with more resources are expected to scoop up many qualified candidates leaving business aviation to fend for itself. Today’s aviation professionals must begin to recruit and mentor the professionals of tomorrow.

Boeing Projects Exponential Growth in Demand for Airline Pilots, July 7, 2012

By 2031 the world will require:

• 460,000 new commercial airline pilots

• 601,000 new commercial airline maintenance technicians

Projected demand by region:

• Asia Pacific – 185,600 pilots and 243,500 technicians

• Europe – 100,900 pilots and 129,700 technicians

• North America – 69,000 pilots and 92,500 technicians

• Middle East – 36,100 pilots and 53,700 technicians

• Latin America – 42,000 pilots and 47,300 technicians

• Africa – 14,500 pilots and 16,200 technicians

• Russia and CIS – 11,900 pilots and 18,100 technicians

There are about 1,000 unemployed licensed pilots in the Netherlands, and there is an expectation that proportional unemployed numbers of pilots in other EU countries would lead to 5600 in Germany, 3750 in France, etc. or across the 450 million EU population something like 30,000 unemployed pilots. Assuming these same floating pilots reserves are available in other parts of the world. The same phenomenon exists in Canada. The industry is not addressing the large number of both experienced and inexperienced number of pilots who are idle.

On pilot shortages in the Gulf States:

2010 Human Resource Study of the Commercial Pilot in Canada; Canadian Aviation Maintenance Council.

Broad economic expansion (a wider external trend) is producing major increases in aviation activity, which in turn results in a pilot shortage. The global demand for pilots in general and experienced pilots specifically is creating unparalleled shortages. Alteon, a Boeing subsidiary, recently projected a worldwide requirement for in excess of 350,000 pilots over the next 20 years just to support new aircraft deliveries.

December 2013: (A statement by SkyWest CEO Chip Childs revealed his concerns about the oncoming pilot shortage. Some 18,000 pilots are expected to retire over the next three years, and the steep certification requirements – 1,500 hours of flight – is choking pilot supply. Smaller, more regional airlines are more likely to be affected, due to their difficulty recruiting. This constriction would severely impact several regions of the U.S., wherein smaller lines are the only service providers. Dated March 2017.) (Controversy over shortage is reaching a fever pitch. ALPA’s safety regulations have come under fire by industry experts, who say they do nothing to improve safety, and could even lead to loss of discipline and recency in training. Since 2013, the restrictions have led to a loss of all service to 50 regional airports. Bonus incentives have been tried by companies to mitigate the harm, but have led to legal conflicts with the International Association of Teamsters and ALPA themselves, who say the bonuses violate employee contracts. Dated March 2017.) (ALPA’s own perspective. According to them, now is a great time to be a pilot. They claim to have reached 10,000 students through community outreach and training. They also claim that no pilot shortage exists, with 25,500 new certificates being issued since July 2013. Note the suggestion to raise wages to competitive levels to attract staff, and the assertion that some regional airlines have entry-level wages below $30,000. Dated 2017.) (South African perspective on the global pilot shortage. The United States is far from the only one affected; burgeoning markets, including the Middle East and China, have even more significant pilot shortages. Boeing currently estimates demand for pilots increasing to 558,000 by 2034. Demand is increasing, to the point where Chinese airlines may need to hire 100 pilots a week for twenty years to meet demand. To attract employees, companies are offering very high salaries off the gate, far exceeding US levels. Dated November 2016.) (In-depth analysis of the numbers. Most of the demand in the Asian-Pacific market is for experienced pilots and Captains, so training is a huge factor. Training costs and low pay are driving more pilots from the profession, particularly in the U.S. Note in particular that training costs are now paid largely out of pocket, and total to between 60,000 and 100,000 Pounds Sterling per person. Interest still exists based off of attendance figures at Pilot’s Career Live, which remain high; it’s the training that’s the problem. Dated 2016.) (Overview of prior topics discussed. Note in particular that the U.S. relies, to a degree, on a Military-Commercial Pipeline for its pilots; pilots join the Air Force to get hours and go commercial when they hit their 1,500-hr mark. However, the military is also facing a pilot shortage, for nearly a decade. Also note that the pilot shortage is predicted to last for decades. Dated May 2, 2017.) (A sign of the times; backlogs and deliveries are moving on schedule, but outright orders for Boeing and Airbus have dried up. Their combined book-to-bill rates fell below the 1.0x mark in 2016. However, there’s an eight-year backlog still going strong, with few cancellations, meaning that the industry has some time to catch up. Airlines and lessors are 17% over-ordered, but this only shaves two years or so off the backlog.)

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