Alteon cultivates home-grown talent

 - December 13, 2006, 7:48 AM

Believe it or not, there’s a pilot shortage out there, not in the U.S. or Europe, but in Asia, where a flourishing airline business needs first officers, and lots of them. While expatriates from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have helped fill the void to a degree, the biggest assemblage of furloughed pilots shows little desire to move from their homes in the U.S., leaving Asian carriers with an urgent need for more local flight-deck talent.

Seattle-based Alteon, Boeing’s wholly owned training subsidiary, recently formed a partnership with Jeppesen to develop a first officer program targeted at local recruits and tailored to each participating airline’s guidelines. The partners expect to finish writing the program curriculum in the first quarter of 2006, and prepare fresh recruits for right-seat duty in as little as a year, according to Alteon president Pat Gaines.

The first phase of the program will take place at Alteon-certified local flight schools, where instructors will blend airline procedures, techniques and communication into the syllabus for private, commercial instrument and multi-engine training. Flight training will take place in glass-cockpit equipped airplanes and simulators and concentrate on multi-crew, IFR and high-workload environments. Once finished with Phase I instruction, recruits will earn their type ratings at an Alteon simulator center, undergoing intensive airline-specific operations and procedures training, including threat and error management and upset recovery.

“We’ll be working with the airlines on their recruiting, on the screening, on the testing and on their indoctrination program so that when a candidate graduates, he’ll come out not only with a type rating for the intro to that fleet, that type rating will be to that airline’s standards,” explained Gaines. “Many airlines now are taking [trainees] out of the ab-initio programs and then doing an extensive program at that airline, where they do observation, they do a long simulator program…so our goal is to get that guy ready to do initial operating experience with the airline in 12 months.”

All told, Alteon owns 21 training facilities–14 located outside the U.S.–and more than 70 simulators. In the Asia/Pacific region, it operates centers in Brisbane, Australia; Inchon, South Korea; and Kunming, China. In late April Alteon announced plans to build a new facility near Changi International Airport in Singapore. Scheduled to open just about the time Alteon and Jeppesen unveil the first-officer curriculum early next year, the new location will house six full-flight simulators and carry enough capacity to train 6,000 pilots and flight attendants per year.

Jeppesen and Alteon have already begun navigating regulatory hurdles to prepare for certification of the selected flying schools. The partners have yet to sign a contract with an airline, but Gaines said the concept has drawn quite a bit of interest from “many” operators, and not only from the civil sector. “We’re looking at the military programs, and how they’re able to successfully qualify people in a time frame that puts them out there operating large cargo transports and other types,” he said. “A lot of [militaries] are now looking to outside providers to do their training.”

Pilots Needed: Apply Here

Still, Alteon expects airlines to account for most of the demand, most notably in southeast and south central Asia, where Gaines said the arrival of discount-fare carriers has sapped the region of its limited pilot resources. “The industry needs an influx,” he told Aviation International News. “It has stabilized for a while, so there hasn’t been a great flood of pilots because of the economics of the past couple of years.”

Of course, no one could place India on a list of stagnating economies. In fact, along with that of China, the subcontinent’s air transport business ranks among the world’s fastest growing. In late April Air India’s board approved the purchase of 27 Boeing 787s, 15 B777-300ERs and eight 777-200LRs, scheduled for delivery over 10 years starting in 2006. India’s other state-owned carrier, Indian Airlines, also plans to place a big order soon, reportedly for 43 airplanes, while private airlines such as Air Deccan, Jet Airways and Air Sahara–recently granted government approval to fly international routes–continue to build their fleets as the country’s air traffic grows by more than 20 percent each year.

As a result, pilot poaching among the various Indian carriers has become widespread, prompting the government to meet with airlines to talk over measures to curb the practice. Boeing expects India will need at least 150 new pilots each year just to fly its airplanes.

Gaines confirmed that Alteon is in talks to build a new training center in India, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the details. “Obviously it would be a very good area for us to explore,” said Gaines. “So we are in exploration, but there’s nothing official yet.”