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.
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?