Pilot Gap in Asia Reaching Critical Proportions
Ailing infrastructure in rapidly growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region has not kept in step with demand, creating huge challenges for airlines running out of pilots as fleets expand. Led by China and India, the region’s economies will grow 4.5 percent per year over the next 20 years, while Chinese airlines triple the size of their fleets, according to the 2013 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook on Asia-Pacific.
China alone will require 77,400 pilots and 93,900 technicians of the 192,300 new airline pilots and 215,300 new technicians needed in the region through 2032, said the Boeing report.
“There is a very real, urgent demand…and the industry will not be able to meet it…While Boeing is investing in technologies to attract and retain young people, this is an industry-wide issue that can be solved only with industry-wide solutions,” said Boeing Flight Services global sales director Bob Bellitto in a conference call. In an effort to contribute to such broader “solutions,” Boeing now plans to license its courseware to help save resources and costs for operators, Bellitto said.
While some airlines like Air India have aggressively established their own training centers, money to support the schools remains scarce. The industry needs more flight schools with quality, said Bellitto.
Obstacles often stand in the way of expanding the workforce as developing countries struggle to retain expatriate talent due to increases in the cost of living and pollution. Most Asian countries, including India, have had to extend employment waivers for expat pilots due to the scarcity of indigenous captains. “This is a reality-based issue,” Bellitto told AIN. “When we introduce a new aircraft we provide line assistance and captains for 128 days.”
Meanwhile, workforce attrition becomes a real problem as people move around. “In countries like India there are plenty of jobs,” said Bellitto. “The question is do you want to live there?”
Still, the bleak economic situation in Europe has helped to a degree in places such as Indonesia, where many foreign pilots have applied to work at airlines such as Lion Air. Now employing 360 captains and 400 first officers, Lion Air is in the process of training 50 captains and 70 copilots and next year plans to recruit another 100 each.
More evidence of the dire need for pilots in Asia surfaced with an announcement on September 19 that India’s Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines have signed a memorandum of understanding and applied for Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval to establish a new airline in India. While the principals haven’t yet indicated the number of aircraft they plan to field, the joint venture will present formidable competition to existing carriers for human resources.