Singapore Air Show

Asia’s Budget Carriers Plan Training Centers

 - February 12, 2014, 11:50 PM
ATR’s EASA-approved training center in Singapore located at Seletar Airpark offers programs that include flight-crew type rating through recurrent training in an ATR 600 full-flight simulator that enables training for both ATR 44-600s and ATR 72-600s.

As demand for aviation in Asia Pacific continues to grow, so does the requirement for training. In addition, infrastructure in the region’s growing economies has not kept pace with expansion, creating colossal challenges for airlines–as confirmed by Boeing’s Pilot & Technician Outlook on Asia Pacific, which states that demand for pilots in the region will increase by 7 percent in the next two decades.

The accelerating growth of Asian budget carriers, with large fleet orders depleting the pool of trained pilots and maintenance engineers, is making many companies look toward in-house training schools and away from outsourcing, and some are entering joint ventures with OEMs to support their long-term growth. For the short-term, carriers in the region have no choice but to woo Western captains at salaries often double those of their local counterparts.

Led by China and India, the region’s economies are forecast to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent per year over the next 20 years, with airlines in China likely to triple the size of the fleet there. According to Boeing, of 192,300 new commercial airline pilots and 215,300 new technicians needed in the region through 2032, China will require 77,400 pilots and 93,900 technicians.

In the Asia Pacific region, almost 9.6 percent of pilot demand and 11.9 percent of the demand for technicians will originate from Northeast Asia, including Korea, said Boeing. The OEM is expanding its training business in South Korea, building the country’s largest aviation training facility, located in Incheon’s Free Economic Zone. When completed in 2015, the facility will accommodate 12 full-flight simulators to support Korean Air’s pilot training needs.

To prepare the next generation of student pilots, Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen is teaming with pilot training centers worldwide, such as Dubai-based Emirates Aviation College, for ab initio training that prepares students for transition training by Boeing. This offers the advantage of a single source of training moving from cadet to jet pilot, creating “a unique model for meeting local regional demand while implementing European standards,” said Ahmad Al Ali, senior vice president of Emirates Aviation College.

Lion Air’s Academy

Indonesia’s largest carrier, budget airline Lion Air, part of the Lion Group, has more than 700 aircraft on order and wants to ensure that its Angkasa Aviation Academy is sustainable in the long-term. “We want a joint venture partner for our training organization to help us achieve EASA or FAA certification…because it will help it to grow by attracting third-party business,” a Lion Air spokesman told AIN.

Lion Air employs 360 captains and 400 first officers, and has 50 captains and 70 first officers in training. This year it expects to require an additional 100 captains and 100 first officers, many of whom will be recruited from its flying school.

The constraint remains in the lack of captains. “[After] the Batavia Air collapse, we recruited many of their A320 captains. These pilots have since been type rated for the 737 but, in early 2014, will undergo type rating training back to A320s,” he said.

The remainder of needed pilots will be recruited from abroad. “We have also been sourcing first officers from Malaysia because there’s a surplus in that country,” he added.

Lion Air subsidiary Thai Lion plans to set up a program where graduates from flying schools in Thailand can work for Lion in Indonesia as first officers before returning to work for Thai Lion in Thailand.

Lion Air’s academy has on order 40 Cessna 172s valued at $15 million, as well as five CAE-built full-flight simulators–three 737s, one ATR and one A320–to provide for a growing fleet that includes 68 B737-900ERs, 20 B737-800s, 10 B737-300/400s and two B747s.

Also among the Lion Group are Wings Air, which operates 20 ATR 72-500s and seven -600s; and Batik Air, which flies six 737-900ERs. Overseas affiliates in the group are Malindo Air, operating six 737-900ERs and three ATR 72-600s; and Thai Lion Air, flying two 737-900ERs and two 737-800s; the latter are new to the fleet this month.

Common Regs a Problem

Interestingly, the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) does not envision a shortage of pilots and ground staff in the short term and said the lack of a harmonized and common approach to regulation in the region is to blame.

“The problem can be resolved with regulators making it easier to confirm and transfer qualifications and licenses from one jurisdiction to another,” said Martin Eran-Tasker, AAPA technical director. In the medium- to long-term, regulators and industry “are taking this issue seriously and we are seeing an increase in training establishments…It will be [their] responsibility to ensure training standards are maintained,” he added.

“There is a very real, urgent demand,” said Bob Bellitto, global sales director, Boeing Flight Services. “Boeing is investing in technologies to attract and retain young people [but it is] an issue that can be solved only with industry-wide solutions.” A silver lining is the retirement of old planes that is likely to bring down demand for technicians by 7 percent. Boeing plans to license its courseware to help save resources and costs for operators, Bellitto said.

As many emerging countries struggle with costs in order to retain expatriate talent, some–including India–have been forced to extend waivers to expat pilots to allow them to continue flying as captains. But this isn’t always enough. “This is a reality-based issue. When we introduce a new aircraft we provide line assistance and captains for 128 days, which allows crew to get training,” Bellitto told AIN.

Attrition and Pay Rates

Attrition of workforce remains an issue as people move around. “In countries like India there are plenty of jobs. The question is do you want to live there or work for any of the airlines,” Bellitto added.

Asian regulators could also be considering high pay rates for expat pilots. Airline pilots in the U.S., for instance, often get stuck in the right seat for decades as the seniority system gets in the way. “Asia Pacific recruiters want to see the specific type rating and recent pilot-in-commandtime. They need to think out of the box,” a U.S. pilot with more than 25 years’ experience told AIN.

Meanwhile, airlines like Air India have been aggressive in setting up their own centers. The challenge for many is getting money to support quality flight schools. CAE, for instance, which is no stranger to the region, has established–through a joint venture with InterGlobe Enterprises, owner of IndiGo airlines–India’s largest pilot training center and the first for Airbus-certified training.

The $25 million CAE Simulation Training Pvt. Ltd., based in Greater Noida in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, provides recurrent training to IndiGo and budget-carrier GoAir’s A320 pilots. (IndiGo, with 75 A320s in its fleet, has on order 190 A320s, including 150 with the new engine option).

“India is among the fastest growing civil aviation markets, with a [burgeoning] need for trained pilots,” said Rahul Bhatia, group managing director, InterGlobeEnterprises. The facility provides “wet” and “dry” type rating, recurrent, conversion and jet indoctrination training. It operates two CAE Series 5000 A320 level-D full-flight simulators. With six simulator bays, it plans to have the capacity by 2017 to train over 5,000 pilots a year.

“This new facility will not only better serve the rapidly growing regional carrier market in the region, but also provide…flexibility and proximity,” said Marc Parent, president and CEO, CAE. A simulation center located in North India is easily accessible to airlines in neighboring countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Asia’s largest budget carrier, Malaysia-based AirAsia, is the largest A320 family airline customer, having ordered 475 single-aisle aircraft, comprising 264 A320neos and 211 A320ceos. The more than 100 aircraft already delivered make it cost effective for the airline to have its own training. Along with CAE, AirAsia has made Kuala Lumpur the location for CAE’s Southeast Asian training hub for pilots, cabin crew, maintenance engineers and ground service staff.

AirAsia MPL Program

Under a five-year contract, CAE is training more than 200 additional new AirAsia A320 first officers in a multi-crew pilot license (MPL) program. The MPL license is expected to be granted by Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation following the takeoff and landing phase of training. Graduates will then enter AirAsia’s initial operating experience program for Airbus A320 first officers.

Azran Osman-Rani, CEO of AirAsia’s long-haul subsidiary AirAsia X, is not concerned about the possibility of pilot shortages, despite impending deliveries of several aircraft in 2015. His plan is to take experienced pilots from parent AirAsia and train them on widebodies. Captains will also be sourced from the other parts of the world, he told AIN. AirAsia X recently ordered 25 A330-300ERs, building on an existing order for 18 plus its present fleet of 15 A330-300s.

Training centers are thriving, with Thai Airways setting up a $780,000 pilot and ground crew training school. Philippines carrier Cebu Pacific, which has four A330-300s and a large number of A320 family on firm order, including 30 A321neos, has set up the $50 million Philippine Academy for Aviation Training with CAE, to cater to its growing fleet and to capture the fast-growing regional third-party training requirements for commercial aviation in the Philippines.

Singapore, a key hub for aerospace, is actively supporting the growing needs of the industry. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore along with the country’s institutes of higher learning has plans to integrate engineer training into their syllabi.

European turboprop airliner manufacturer ATR, which has more than 250 aircraft operating in the Asia Pacific region, plus a backlog that currently stands at around 80 aircraft, has a new flight-training center at the Seletar Aerospace Park in Singapore. Approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency, training programs there include flight-crew type rating through recurrent training.

The facility includes an ATR-600 series full-flight simulator that enables training both for ATR 42-600s and ATR 72-600s variants, maintenance/flight simulation training devices and a brief/debrief station.

Another recent addition at Seletar aimed at E-Jet pilots and cabin attendants is the New Embraer Learning Center, established in partnership with FlightSafety International (at its Boeing training center) for initial training, jet transition, type ratings and recurrent training.