Worry about future pilot and engineer supply for airlines has been around since the 1990s, but something has always happened to postpone the predicted shortage.
Industry experts today, however, look at the number of forward orders for new aircraft, predictions of world fleet expansion, and sustained growth in the Asia-Pacific region and cannot see a further postponement unless the world economy moves from sluggish growth into depression – and that is not, at present, being predicted.
The number of new pilots required to be trained in the next 20 years is 450,000 worldwide, according to the Professional Aviation Board of Certification (PABC). Simulation and training giant CAE estimates the requirement at 20,000 new pilots a year, which is roughly the same as PABC’s prediction.
Meanwhile, Martin Eran-Tasker, technical director of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, presenting at the Flightglobal Safety in Aviation – Asia conference in Singapore in May, pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region alone had a need to train 184,000 fully trained pilots and 250,000 aircraft technicians in the next 20 years, with China’s specific needs being, respectively, 72,000 and 110,000.
Eran-Tasker says government figures show that the number of would-be pilots presenting themselves for training, and the number of licences being issued, are both going down because the appeal of piloting as a career is plummeting.
He ascribes this to industry instability, the high entry cost, unsocial working patterns, and the fact that piloting is now less well paid than some other professions.
PABC’s Asia manager, Capt John Bent, is trying hard to spread the message that training is not only a numbers game. Bent, also among the speakers at the Flightglobal Safety in Aviation – Asia conference, insists that quality is also vital, but that this fact is not, at present, being taken seriously.
He says airlines are implementing safety management systems (SMS) – which represent a reactive system of risk management – but training – the proactive way of lowering risk and ensuring reliable operations – continues to be budgeted based on regulatory minimum standards. Many airlines have moved “beyond compliance” in other fields, but not in training. Bent says he struggles with the absence of logic in this approach to risk management.
Meanwhile, most airlines are not making practical plans for the provision of sufficient numbers of expert staff in the future, let alone for assuring the necessary quality, and of concern is that the third-party training industry does not have the capacity to produce the pilot and engineer numbers required. On the other hand, the accelerating worldwide consolidation in this highly fragmented industry might create a more resilient training sector, one with greater capacity for investment in future expansion.