Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pilot Outlook 2010-2029: A Shortage Looms

Latest industry statistics point to a pilot shortage that will dwarf those that came before

Since airliners don’t yet fly themselves (and the public doesn’t yet support the idea), qualified pilots will be needed to fly all those new airplanes. Based on Boeing’s projections, 466,650 trained pilots and 596,500 maintenance technicians will be needed to fly and maintain the growing worldwide fleet. The bulk of those half-million pilots will be new hires who will replace retiring pilots and furloughed pilots who leave the workforce permanently and through attrition.

Commercial air service growth is already starting to creep up. Freight carrier FedEx announced in January 2011 that it will take delivery of 55 new Boeing 777F aircraft to add to its current fleet of 12, and to replace other aging aircraft. The first 777F was delivered to FedEx on February 28, 2011. Anticipating a rebound in luxury travel, on-demand leader NetJets has placed a firm order for 50 Bombardier aircraft, with options for 70 more, worth $6.7 billion.

It’s no secret that the biggest demand for pilots will come from countries outside the U.S. Beginning just a few years ago, airlines in emerging nations started hiring pilots from other countries (including the United States) to meet their domestic needs. Though some of that hiring has subsided, the coming demand will certainly require aggressive recruiting from these overseas airlines to attract qualified talent. The fact remains that if you’re willing to pack your bags and live abroad, you’ll be able to write your own ticket.
So, as grim as the present may look with regard to the availability and desirability of professional pilot jobs, the future looks like a ray of sunshine burning through the overcast.
The largest growth in pilot numbers will be in the Asia Pacific region, with a requirement for 180,600 pilots. China will experience the most dramatic growth and will need the most pilots, with an expected requirement for 70,600 pilots. North America will need some 97,350 pilots, and Europe will require 94,800 pilots. Another 100,000 pilots will be needed across Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. Maintenance personnel will enjoy an unprecedented increase in demand, with specialized skills in systems and avionics wanted everywhere.

The Obstacles

But what about the disastrous events that have affected the aviation industry? The Asian financial crisis, SARS, terrorist acts, three major world recessions, two Gulf wars, and the current eruption of anti-government violence in Middle Eastern countries are calamities that have hit aviation hard. Add to those the high cost of flight training and fuel, disappearing GA airports, and the negative public perception of GA.

Those issues have, in fact, hit our domestic airline industry hard. For example, volatile fuel costs effectively ended the era of the regional jet by negating their economic viability. Airlines were forced to renew their fleets, streamline their operations, look for new paths of revenue (fees for baggage, premium seating, food, etc.), and take an active role in developing alternative fuels.


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