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Addressing the imminent Pilot shortage poses a significant challenge for the Aviation sector, necessitating innovative and proactive solutions
Oliver Wyman forecasted in early 2021 that an impending pilot shortage was on the horizon. Then COVID-19 came and sent the airline industry into a downward spiral with disappointing forecasts. But the air travel demand recovered fairly quickly and now nearly 1.3 million fresh civil aviation professionals will be needed by 2032. However, there has been shortage of pilots for some years and forecasts now project that demand for pilots will outstrip supply in most regions globally in 2024, and continue to worsen over the next decade.
PILOT SHORTAGE STATISTICS
According to CAE, a leading supplier of flight training services, the global population of active commercial airline pilots was 3,51,000 in 2023, and predicted a new pilot demand growth of 4.1 per cent every year. In June 2023 CAE further forecasted new commercial pilots’ demand of 2,52,000 by 2032. This includes 91,000 for Asia Pacific, 63,000 for North America, 22,000 for South America, 44,000 for Europe, 28,000 for the Middle East and 3,000 for Africa.
Boeing forecasts demand for 6,49,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years (2023 to 2042). Airbus predicts requirement of 5,85,000 new pilots in the period 2022 to 2041. Shortage is predicted to be nearly 80,000 pilots by 2032. New pilots are needed both for growth and for replacement. CAPA analysis of these forecasts suggests that the annual intake of new pilots needs to be around 7 per cent to 9 per cent of the existing active pilot population.
SHORTAGE OF PILOTS INDIA
As per an analysis in March 2023, India’s airlines had placed orders for at least 1,115 planes to be delivered over the next decade, with a bulk of them inducting after 2025. Typically, a narrow-body commercial plane flying on domestic routes requires 14-16 pilots, and a wide-body aircraft needs 24-26 pilots, as per industry standards. As bulk of India’s planes are narrow-body, even a conservative estimate of 15-16 pilots per plane means 17,000-18,000 pilots will be required over the next decade. That means around 1,700-1,800 per year. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) registers only 600-750 commercial pilot licence (CPL) holders every year. CAPA India estimates that 150-175 of the new planes will arrive in 2024, and would require 1,800-2,000 more pilots to fly them.
AGEING PILOT POPULATION
The pilot supply issue can already be seen in the United States, where several regional airlines are cutting service and parking airplanes due to a lack of qualified crew. Generally, the mandatory retirement age of commercial pilots is 65. Pilots go through stringent medical checks every six months. Many pilots have to retire earlier due medical reason. Commercial pilots in multipilot aircraft can fly a maximum of 10 hours of actual flight time per day. This can be extended to 12 hours under specific conditions. Many pilots were released during pandemic with severance packages and they chose alternative professions. Due to less than required inflow, the average age of pilots is going up, and for US airline pilots in 2023 the average age was 51 years. Supply of pilots from military will dwindle further when militaries switch to more unmanned systems. The transition for pilots from military to civil aviation in some countries, including India remains procedurally complicated. Many countries, especially in Asia-Pacific region are forced to employ foreign pilots.
EFFORTS TO BOLSTER PILOT AVAILABILITY AND STRATEGY TO RETAIN
Airline industry is now putting significant effort to bolster the supply of pilots. This means attracting young talent to the sector and imparting flying training and the Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certification. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data shows that pilot hiring is on the rise, but demand outstrips. Increasing pilot training capacities and quality of training will also increase inflow.
Increased compensation and benefits (bonus), faster career paths, work/life balance, and greater awareness normally helps attract and retain pilots. An annual cost-of-living pay increase, holiday bonus and modest retirement-fund match are other means. Some companies are giving raise twice a year instead of annually, while others are offering retention-pay increases. Some companies are even offering one to five-year bonuses related to retention. There are others who help team members by providing tuition reimbursement as they earn associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees, as well as when they obtain higher rating.
A big factor is quality of life. Some airlines say when you’re not working, you can turn off your phone or not answer it. It is important to provide a reasonable way for pilots to enjoy important events with their family, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and kids’ school events. This would mean a little higher staffing then the minimal that are currently employed. Some airlines are now employing three pilots for each two-crew member aircraft. Regularly scheduled days off, in addition to vacation, are also important.
Finally, the airline operators have to assess their competition. Try and understand where employees find value. Clearly communicate your retention plans to your staff. Offer creative compensation packages. Create and support reasonable work-life balance. Help individual grow his qualification, and communicate more often on advancement path. Some conduct ‘stay interviews’ with their top performers to understand their employment needs and what fulfils their desire for meaningful work. Remember, people are the most valuable part of the organisation. They are also crucial for flight and ground safety. Accidents are either caused by human error, or humans are the final defence to prevent an accident. Lastly it is important to have good HR managers.
TYPICAL PILOT TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION
There are many Government approved flying clubs and academies which impart flying training. The civil pilots’ licences include Private Pilot License (PPL), the Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) and Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL). The PPL programmes equip aspiring pilots with the necessary knowledge, skills and flight hours to successfully operate single-engine aircrafts non-commercially, for personal and recreational purposes.
A candidate requires 200 hours flying experience to apply for CPL and 1,500 hours for ATPL. The pilot has to be above 18 years age, should have passed Class 10+2 or an equivalent examination with physics and mathematics, from a recognised Board/University. He should be medically fit as per DGCA specified requirements. He has to pass a written examination in Air Regulations, Air Navigation, Meteorology and Aircraft and Engines and Signals (practical) examination as per DGCA syllabus. The details of breakdown and type of flying requirements are stipulated by the DGCA. The pilots flying skills for the instrument rating, and proficiency in Radio communications would be tested. The license would have a validity period, and can be renewed after meeting the prescribed conditions.
FLYING TRAINING IN INDIA
In India, all civil aviation training is regulated by the DGCA which has currently (2023) given recognition to 35 Flying Training Organisations (FTO) for flight training and seven (including one in Singapore) Aircraft Type Training Organisations for type rating. These are spread across most states. These are either government run or private institutions. Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi (IGRUA), at Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, is a Central Government owned autonomous institution under the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Among the other top civil flying training establishments is the National Flying Training Institute (NFTI) established in at Gondia, Maharashtra. It is a joint venture between CAE and the Airport Authority of India (AAI). Madhya Pradesh Flying Club at Bhopal has been training for long. Ahmedabad Aviation & Aeronautics Ltd is functioning since 1994. Flytech Aviation Academy was established in the year 1995 at Hyderabad. Chimes Aviation Academy is operating at Sagar, Madhya Pradesh since 2008. The Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology, Thiruvananthapuram is a state government controlled institution. The Orient Flight School, Mysuru, has been imparting flying training for 28 years. The Academy of Carver Aviation Pvt Ltd. Operates at Baramati, Maharashtra, since 1995.
These training institutions operate a variety of aircraft and train for PPL, CPL, and Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (AME). The commonly used aircraft are Cessna 152, Cessna Skyhawk (172), Diamond DA40, Piper, Cirrus, Technam and the likes.
Hatsoff Helicopter Training Pvt Ltd is a joint venture between Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and CAE Inc at Bengaluru. They train helicopter pilots on AS365 Dauphin, Bell 412, and HAL Dhruv.
SIMULATOR TRAINING IN INDIA
For CPL, DGCA expects among other requirements, not less than fifty hours of instrument time of which up to twenty hours may be on an approved simulator. The flying test shall be carried out in accordance with the syllabus prescribed by the DGCA, however, DGCA may allow such tests or part thereof to be carried out on an approved simulator for the type of aircraft.
Technology has allowed modern simulators to give a very realistic feel and conditions of actual flying. One can practice all cockpit procedures, including crew resource management (CRM); get a realistic feel of controls; get a realistic external view including topography and depth perception; carry out navigation and airfield approach procedures, and finally practise landing in various visibility conditions. Each training session is performed with a briefing and a de-briefing session with a qualified instructor, which allows you to maximise your time of learning while on the simulator.
Most major flying training institutions have simulator flying training facilities. Flight Simulation Technique Centre (FSTC), is a state-of-the-art pilot training centre, headquartered at Gurugram. It is India’s 1st standalone Approved Training Organisation (ATO) by DGCA and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). FSTC has eight fully operational level D simulators, covering different types of aircraft, and with presence at Delhi/NCR and Hyderabad, Telangana.
Flight Sim Centre based in Mumbai is an Indian registered MSME company started in 2016. They manufacture A320/B737/Cessna 172 Flight Simulator training devices and simulator parts. They also provide pilot flight training on A320 and Boeing 737 fixed based simulators.
Launched in 2013, CAE Simulation Training Pvt Ltd (CSTPL) is a joint venture between InterGlobe Enterprises (IGE) and CAE Inc, at Greater Noida. They have thirteen cutting-edge full-flight simulators with an annual capacity of 72,000 hours. CAE has the world’s largest civil aviation training network, with 250+ full-flight simulators in 50+ training locations in some of the world’s most desirable destinations. Every year, CAE trains more than 1,35,000 pilots and graduates 1,500+ new pilots across its global network. CAE’s state-of-the-art training centres have capacity to train up to 1,000 pilots every year from CAE’s Aviation Academies in India.
Located five kilometres from the new international airport at Bengaluru, Bengaluru facility provides training to airline pilots on the Airbus A320 platform, and offers helicopter aviation training on Airbus Helicopters and Bell platforms. CAE is also at New Delhi and Gondia.
The Airline industry is now putting significant effort into increasing pilot training capacities and improving the quality of training to enhance the overall inflow of skilled pilots
Bombay Flying Club, The ELITE gives a pilot full VOR / DME / ADF / ILS simulator capabilities. Government Aviation Training Institute Dwarka, Delhi, has the globally used ALSIM 250 French made simulator. This simulator allows interchangeable Single Engine and Multi Engine operation console; changeable simplex/complex analogue “six pack” instrumentation; full glass cockpit with EFIS MAP, Full functional instructor panel with touchscreens; realistic weather and airport database; and aerodynamic derivatives of different aircraft.
IGRUA, Amethi, has two Simulators for DA-40 aircraft, one Simulator for DA-42 multi-engine aircraft, two fixed base Cockpit Procedure Trainers for TB-20 aircraft, a Glass Cockpit Procedure Trainer that can simulate eight different aircraft from light single engine to advanced jets. They also have a Touch Panel Trainer for Boeing 737 aircraft.
MAKE TRAINING CHEAPER AND MORE ACCESSIBLE
Typically flying training qualification costs over $1,00,000 which has to be funded by trainees themselves. Increasing scholarships, grants and airline cadetships could reduce the financial barriers. The use of artificial intelligence and other technologies can make pilot training more efficient.
One way to ease to the pilot shortage problem is to increase the diversity of the recruitment pool. Women airline pilot’s numbers are growing, but still small, at around 4 per cent to 6 per cent of the world’s airline pilots. 15 per cent of Indian commercial pilots are women, the highest for any country. They make great pilots and numbers must go up further. Airlines must make conditions attractive to retain pilots, through promotions, and give loyalty incentives. In the longer run, technological advances may lead to single pilot cockpits, and later even pilot-less cockpits.
A renewed focus on pilot quality of life, a faster career progression timeline, and more job security would make their jobs more attractive. As the Generation Z is showing less interest in the industry, means aviation needs to relook at the work environment. Lastly India has all the potential to become a global aviation hub. India has a great scope to become a very efficient flying training centre that can provide international class training at a much lower cost.