Pilot Gap in Asia Reaching Critical Proportions

 - September 23, 2013, 11:05 AM
At Asia's current rate of growth, training capacity in the region, particularly in China, won’t keep pace with demand, according to Boeing. (Photo: CAE)

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.

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NK's picture

Unfortunately this was the situation 15 years ago. There was a shortage of experienced pilots and engineers. The problem continued and will continue forever in case of India. You can save this article and reprint or repbublish this 5 years from now and just change the date and it will still be true for India. There are several reasons for this. In India there are several misunderstandings about aviation business. The truth is, for a country of India's size, you need major repair and overhauling facilities, a regulatory organization that has the qualified aerospace experts, training institutions that train engineers and piolts with subsidies that reduce the financial risks in becoming a piot or engineer. This requires long term invetments which private business houses in India will not make. Make no mistake there is no shortage of funds in India. However the business atitude in India is such that any investment that goes towards training of human resources is seen as overhead or even waste. The percentage of national budget that is spent on education by the government is pretty low. As for private organizations in aviation, I don't think there is a budget. Most airlines expect their staff to spned their own money on their own training. King Fisher Airline which went bankrupt is a prime example of how a private business is run in India. Most of the money is controlled by business families and their interests come first.To make things worse, DGCA takes all the technical material published by FAA and republishes it without much change or adaptation. Some of the questions that come up in their technical exams are copied word to word from FAA material. What India needs is massive reorganization of its aviation sector and invetments in infrastructure which neither the government, nor the private sector is willing to do. Running a fleet of modern airplanes is much more than filling them up with fuel and flying. You need facilities for engine overhaul, C checks, D checks. All of this requires trained technical staff not MBAs and paper pushers. Until there is a change in attitude and culture to respect and reward blue collar technical jobs, the only thing that you can expect is articles like this.  

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