Discussions concerning the possible shortage of pilots and engineers have been relevant for years. Nevertheless, the real issue has been tip-toed around again and again as certain circumstances have always temporarily led to somehow finding the supply to cover the demand. However, this may not be the case in the near future.
Capt John Bent, a manager at the Professional Aviation Board of Certification (PABC) in Asia explains clearly why, for the last 15 years, the airline industry has managed to stay away from the (seemingly unavoidable) shortage of personnel. The warning of pilot shortage by the Air Transport Association in 1997 was followed by the 9/11 in 2001, which resulted in an air travel slump and increased number of unemployed pilots. The SARS epidemic and fuel crisis suspended the recovery of the industry and the increased pilot retirement age also contributed to the sufficient supply. The signs of shortage were captured in the US regional airlines in 2007, but this situation was quickly offset by the global financial crisis in 2008.
However, the current situation in the global airline industry suggests that the forthcoming lack of specialists is very likely and that this time nothing could shift these processes unless the world economy moves from sluggish growth into depression, which is not, at present, being predicted. Multiple orders for new aircraft, the significant growth in the Asia-Pacific region and the forecasted world fleet expansion are great prophets of the upcoming shortage. According to widely quoted Boeing estimations, the number of new commercial pilots required to be trained by year 2029 is 450,000 worldwide. The engineers are also expected to be in high demand due to significantly increasing airlines’ fleets.
Some examples from the aviation companies also highlight the upcoming shortage issue. “We are currently at a point in time where demand is above supply and thus you see two situations occurring. One is airlines hiring away people from other airlines – many times in other regions of the world. This in fact does not solve the supply. It simply moves the problem to another place. Airlines are also slowing their growth and sometimes even grounding airplanes due to the lack of people to operate them,” said Sherry Carbary, the vice president of Boeing Flight Services. The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is also a great example of current situation. The company is trying out different approaches in order to contact potential engineers involving the use of Twitter accounts or organizing international recruitment days.
Another significant problem affecting the industry is the competition for young talent from other attractive industries. To fight this fierce competition, some aviation companies invest into promoting the image of pilots or engineers. For instance, for an entire year Boeing has been working with the film industry in Hollywood to improve the image of engineers who are often cast in a bad light, said Rick Stephens, the vice president for human resources in Boeing.
However, the problem does not only concern the numbers. Capt John Bent, a manager at the Professional Aviation Board of Certification (PABC) in Asia notes that quality is also vital and, at present, this fact is not taken seriously. He states that many airlines have moved “beyond compliance” in other fields, but not in training. Another very important factor, according to Mr Bent, is the appropriateness of training, or, in other words, assurance that training is adapted to changes in the aviation environment and aircraft themselves. He also underlines the importance of “training for the unexpected”. In other words, it is ensuring, through training, that the pilots maintain a confidence in their own judgment so they never lose sight of the primary task, which is to keep the aircraft within its safe flight, while addressing whatever else has occurred.
To survive in this complex situation, companies should seek for new approaches in searching for personnel and promote the positive image of positions. However, probably the most important thing to note under such circumstances is to never underestimate the importance of quality and appropriateness of training.