Asia-Pacific aviation growth strains pilot supply

Asia-Pacific aviation growth strains pilot supply

The rapid growth of the aviation industry in Asia-Pacific has stirred high demands for pilots. However, the industry is growing faster than the capacity of technical schools and aviation companies to produce highly skilled and experienced pilots.

Asia-Pacific airlines currently account for one-third of global commercial air traffic according to the estimates of International Air Transport Association (IATA). Considering the current expansion phase of these airlines, they may account for almost half of global commercial air traffic by 2035.

The growth of the Asia-Pacific aviation industry coincides with the booming economies of countries in Southeast. These economies have expanded their respective middle class populations that subsequently developed newer consumption behaviors geared toward travel and tourism.

Airlines are nonetheless eager to tap the lucrative market in Southeast Asia while also exploring or maintaining shares in established East Asia and Pacific markets. The increasing popularity of budget airliners including the AirAsia Group of Malaysia, Lion Air of Indonesia, and Cebu Pacific of the Philippines attests to this fact.

However, the aggressively expanding industry is struggling to hire and train pilots.

Boeing Corporation echoes the same IATA projection in its 2014 Pilot & Technician Outlook. As mentioned, the largest demand for pilot will come from the Asia-Pacific region over the next 20 years. This projected demand will also correspond to a required 216,000 new pilots in order to maintain operational feasibility.

It is important to note that as airlines expand their fleets, they also need to expand their workforce, especially the number of their pilots. One new plane, for instance, would require an airline to hire and train about 10 to 12 pilots to the very least. This inevitable requirement stems from the fact that a single plane regularly flies throughout the day and night. However, pilots need ample rest time—including sleep and day off.

The problem concerning pilot demand actually comes from lack of institutions for training pilots. While the United States has a healthy and sustainable system for pilot development that includes collaboration among universities and specialized flight schools, as well as industry partnerships, Asia lacks one.

Furthermore, compared to North America and the Middle East, wages for pilots in Asia have not risen. In fact, a considerable although still unaccounted number of pilots with experience flying for Asian airlines have been enticed to join Middle East airlines due to more attractive wages and benefits that usually include training packages.

It is also worth mentioning that even US has also expressed concern over shortage of pilots for American airlines. The National Business Aviation Association, for example, has raised concern over a looming shortage as early as 2008. More recently, the US Government Accountability Office in 2014 revealed several indicators of current and future shortage for pilots and other professionals in the US aviation industry.

Peach Aviation from Japan recently announced the cancellation of 2,100 flights for April to October due to pilot shortage. These flights were supposed to account for one-sixth of its year-round scheduled flights.

Of course, if left unchecked, the pilot shortage across Asia-Pacific remains the greatest threat to aviation safety.