Major news organizations are calling it the perfect storm. While the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that air travel will almost double in the next 20 years, from 4 billion to 7.8 billion passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the number of pilots has decreased 30 percent in the last 30 years and unless something is done, it’s only going to get worse.
The downward trend for pilot shortage shows no end in sight, and the outpacing of demand over supply could warrant the doom and gloom pictures being painted for the airline industry over the next two decades.
On the other hand, “It’s fantastic news for innovation and prosperity, which is driven by air links. It is also a huge challenge for governments and industry to ensure we can successfully meet this essential demand,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Growth by Region
The greatest demand is expected to be in the Asia-Pacific region as it surpasses the United States. More than half the new passengers in the next 20 years are anticipated from that region. India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey will all enter the top-ten markets, passing up the UK, France and Italy.
These figures could shift downward if trade liberalization and visa approvals slow, or if travel restrictions are put into place. On the other side, the number of passengers could triple in 20 years if there is an increase in market liberalization.
The five fastest-growing passenger markets are expected to be China, the United States, India, Indonesia, and Turkey. Other markets expected to double each decade at a compound rate of more than 7.2 percent each year, are mostly from Africa and include: Sierra Leone, Benin, Mali, Rwanda, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Malawi, Chad, Gambia, and Mozambique.
Changes in the Industry
Years ago, becoming a pilot was considered prestigious, providing high salaries, nice schedules, and a lot of days off. The military also funneled pilots into the airlines once they had been fully trained and completed their commitment.
Today, that has changed. According to CNN, some of the factors that have affected the industry include: the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 that brought in the low-cost carrier; the 9/11 attacks that affected the financial health of the airlines; major airlines declaring bankruptcy; and pilots who were downgraded in position and pay due to the financial troubles and lack of passengers.
Why Are There Fewer Pilots?
“Retirements at U.S. airlines will start to rise precipitously starting in 2021 as the current crop of pilots turns 65, the mandated age of retirement,” says CNN Business. Almost half of pilots flying today are Baby Boomers and they are about to retire.
Almost 40 years ago, about two-thirds of pilots were ex-military. Today the number is half that, and both the Navy and Air Force are predicting significant shortages for the future as well.
The problem does not lie only with retirements but is multi-faceted. “The high cost of pilot training and several years of earlier hiring freezes in markets like the United States and Australia have deterred potential aviators from entering an industry that Boeing says will need 637,000 more pilots over the next 20 years,” reports Reuters.
Complicating matters, there seems to be a bidding war going on as well. China, for instance, is competing heavily to attract experienced foreign captains by offering annual salaries up to $314,000, tax-free.
Don’t Forget the Private Sector
The shortage also poses a threat for private aviation as private and business aviation competes against the big airlines for qualified pilots, and some say private aviation is growing at a faster pace than commercial travel.
“Private aviation relies on the most experienced pilots, who can also offer VIP passengers the personal attention they expect. These pilots have to work flexible hours to meet on-demand schedules. While these coveted pilots have traditionally been among the highest paid, they are now moving to commercial airlines that offer higher salaries and benefits private jet operators can’t match,” says Forbes.
Is There a Solution?
As they seek a solution to the problem and recognize that it must be done quickly, some airlines are planning to expand their in-house training programs. Quantas Airways plans to invest $15 million in a new flying school, while Emirates opened a $135 million flight training academy last year that can train 600 new pilots.
Foreign airlines, such as Thailand’s Bangkok Airways PCL is attacking the problem in much the same way as China, by increasing salaries and benefits and hiring, but that doesn’t address the shortage issue, as it doesn’t add any new pilots into the pool.
Unions see this as an opportunity to ask for better working conditions and higher pay but offer no real solution for the overall shortage.
On a smaller scale, there are people leaving their current jobs every day and hopping on the track to pilot as they see the hiring wave in front of them. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) tells the story of three of them—a stay-at-home mom, a corporate pilot, and a flight-school owner—all who have started over in one way or another. Most important to them, rather than pay, as long as it was reasonable, was their quality of life, the predictability, and transparency of the major airlines, and working close to home.
Small But Mighty
J.A. Air Center, based in Aurora, Illinois, is doing their part to be part of the solution to the pilot shortage problem. They offer a world-class career pilot program that puts aspiring aviators into the commercial pilots’ seat in 12 months.
The program puts them onto a career path in a quarter of the time it takes to graduate college. Students are trained using the most modern equipment available and trained and mentored by pilots in the Chicago area.
After graduation, Cadets are guaranteed an interview with Mesa Airlines and an internship with Southern Airways flying as a co-pilot. Cadets will get two weeks of Cessna Caravan training and then be placed at a base in the Southern Airways Express system.
Pilots fly with Southern Airways as paid qualified Captains as well as earning $15,000 in tuition reimbursement.
They may not be able to meet the demand of turning out 87 new, trained pilots each day, but with programs like theirs, and others like them, J.A. Air Center is a part of the solution.
Contact J.A. Air Center today to learn more about becoming a pilot. This opportunity is available to graduating high school students, college students and people wishing to become an airline pilot with little or no experience.