Pilot shortage could affect key travel markets

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing warned the industry earlier this year that airlines will have to hire 637,000 new pilots worldwide in the next 20 years to mitigate an expected shortage. Where will pilots be needed most? 

An industry forecast in July from Boeing outlined the regions where pilots would be in short supply. Not surprisingly, Asia-Pacific ranks at the top of the list, being the fastest growing aviation market over the last several years. It's predicted that airlines in that region will hire roughly 40 percent of all new pilots in the next twenty years. That's about 253,000 new pilots. Asia has seen the growth of budget carriers in addition to new airports as the passenger population increases. Boeing itself just signed a $US13.8 billion deal with Singapore Airlines which will involve the purchase 39 of Boeing's newest 777 and 787 long-haul aircraft. Fleet upgrades are part of the reason that pilots will be in high demand in the coming years. Attrition is another. 

Many pilots around the world are reaching retirement age (which averages between 60-65 years old). In addition, many regional carriers have been hard pressed to hire more pilots because of increasingly stringent qualification rules. For example, a recent Federal Aviation Administration rule in the U.S. increased the minimum qualification hours for pilots on commercial passenger aircraft and this had two major consequences. First, new-hire pilots, already burdened by training debt, have had to think long and hard about accruing the additional hours and expenses given the lower entry-level pay at regional airlines. Next, the larger airlines have readily taken in more experienced pilots from regional airlines, leaving the former with fewer qualified pilots. Despite these developments, the growth of airlines around the world is the primary reason airlines are likely to face pilot shortages. 

Airlines in North America will need around 117,000 new pilots by 2036. Europe will need 106,000 pilots, according to Boeing. Despite the challenges facing regional airlines and their ability to attract new pilots, many of them have increased incentives and bonuses to augment the base pay which, for many airlines, is already on the increase. Pilot groups contend that pay has more to do with the need for more pilots while airline groups point toward stricter regulations among other factors.