Lack Of New Pilots Could Soon Leave Travelers With Fewer Options

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Unless the aviation industry adds 255,000 more pilots in 10 years, airlines won’t be able to sustain their current growth rate or handle an expected increase in customer traffic. 

The gloomy outlook comes courtesy of the Airline Pilot Demand Outlook report [PDF] from training company CAE Inc., which examined how airlines’ current growth and a looming pilot shortage could result in fewer options for customers.

According to the report, 255,000 new airline pilots must be added over the next 10 years in order for airlines to sustain the growth and support retirements of current pilots.

In all, airlines must add 105,000 pilots to replace those retiring, and 150,000 new pilots just to make up for growth in passenger demand, which is expected to double over the next 20 years.

Additionally, CAE found that airlines must also train and transition 180,000 current first officers into airline captains.

To put the global pilot shortage into perspective, Nick Leontidis, CAE Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions, estimates that the airline industry will need to add 70 new type-rated pilots per day over the next 10 years.

If airlines fail to meet their goals of adding more pilots, CAE suggests it could result in less growth, which would hinder airlines’ ability to offer more routes in the future.

According to the report, over the next 10 years, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts an additional 1.6 billion passengers will be seeking flights. In order to cater to these passengers, airlines will need to add 7,000 additional routes.

While demand for travel and a need for new pilots suggests a healthy job market, hiring people to fly commercial planes isn’t as easy as filling out an application.

Prospective pilots are required to have at least 1,500 flying hours just to be a co-pilot. Additionally, they undergo a wealth of training, which often costs tens of thousands of dollars and can take several years.

To that end, CAE suggests adding new pilots will be a challenge for airlines, as more than half of the required pilots have not yet begun training.

“This record demand will challenge current pilot recruitment channels and development programs,” Leontidis said in a statement. “New and innovative pilot career pathways and training systems will be required to meet the industry’s pilot needs and ever-evolving safety, competency and efficiency standards.”

A pilot shortage has been looming for several years; regional airlines, government agencies, and pilot groups have warned that new regulations, higher costs of school, and lower salaries have led to a drop-off in the number of available pilot.  Some airlines, including JetBlue, have launched programs to recruit would-be pilots with no flying experience.

Last year, a study by the University of North Dakota’s Aviation Department, found that as more pilots reach the mandatory age of retirement – and fewer young fliers enter commercial aviation – the pilot deficit could soar to 15,000 in 10 years.

As a Government Accountability Office report found in 2014, many would-be pilots have changed their career paths when faced with the stiff requirements and time-consuming, expensive process tied to flying commercially.

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