Training Providers Scramble To Meet Middle East’s Pilot Shortfall
According to a recent report by Boeing, the Middle East will need more than 37,000 pilots to fly the aircraft due to be delivered there over the next 20 years. But the region faces a serious lack of adequate training facilities. “Pilot requirements for the Gulf region will grow at a faster rate than local pilots can be trained,” concluded Boeing in its latest pilot and technician forecast.
The industry is waking up to the challenge, but there are doubts as to whether it is ready for the kind of growth now being anticipated. “Everyone is saying the same thing,” Flight Safety International (FSI) executive vice president Eric Hinson told AIN. “There will definitely be a pilot shortage if the levels of available training can’t keep pace.”
Adding to the problem is the fact that many U.S. pilots who moved to the Middle East a few years ago to take advantage of the better conditions are returning to the U.S. to fill slots left by those now reaching retirement. “This means there will be even fewer pilots available for the growth in the Middle East,” he added.
Emirates told AIN that it alone needs an additional 500 pilots for each of the next two years to meet its outstanding 192-aircraft order book and expanding route network. All of its nine existing flight simulators have been supplied by CAE and located in the Emirates Aviation College facility. “Emirates expansion will require us to continue to recruit qualified personnel from around the world,” Capt. Martin Mahoney, senior vice president of flight training, told AIN.
CAE has long been a player in the region, mainly through the Emirates-CAE Flight Training School in Dubai, located within the Aviation College campus. The school celebrated its tenth birthday in July with the announcement that it would open a second facility to join the first.
“Continued strong airline growth in the Middle East and neighboring regions is driving the need for additional highly qualified flight deck crew and maintenance personnel,” said Emirates-CAE Flight Training School (ECFT) chairman Gary Chapman. “Our partnership has proven over many years the ability to consistently provide world-class training programs which leverage market-leading simulation technology.”
The existing facility will be used primarily for training business aircraft pilots, the new one for commercial pilot training, although there will still be some mixture between the two depending on demand, said Camille Mariamo, managing director, commercial training and simulation, Middle East & India Region. “We’re full to capacity, and as growth continues, the reality is that we have to make sure we invest and grow with the demand, so we’re expanding in Dubai to accommodate that,” he added.
While CAE is clearly well established in the region, its competitors are still looking for ways to strengthen their position. Apart from a dispatch training facility in partnership with flight-planning and support group Nexus in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, FSI’s map of its worldwide locations reveals a gap in only one major area: the Middle East. “We’re talking to a lot of parties, but nothing has materialized yet,” said Hinson. He added that while FSI has a significant customer base in the area, most of the training for locally based pilots is still carried out in either Europe or the U.S. He accepts this must change. “Airlines no longer want to travel somewhere else to do their training. They expect it to be available where they are,” he said.
Thales, likewise, has identified what it calls “a key challenge for the industry” in meeting current and future training needs. “Hundreds of new pilots are needed every year and existing pilots need to be trained on new aircraft to cope with huge fleet expansion and modernization,” global civil simulation business sales director Jean-Pierre Pourre told AIN. He added that Thales is addressing “various business opportunities in the region, ranging from the supply of equipment to the provision of turnkey services. In some cases this includes leadership of a feasibility study and project relating to the creation of new training centers.”
Located in the Emirates Aviation College campus, near Dubai International Airport, ECFT provides aviation-related courses for commercial and business carriers in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, and South America, aimed primarily at flight-deck crew and maintenance personnel. It was the first facility of its kind in the Middle East to be approved by aviation authorities in Europe, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. According to Mariamo, it works in close collaboration with more than 20 different national aviation authorities to ensure that their specific requirements are fulfilled.
The original center houses 12 full-flight simulators for the following aircraft types: two Airbus A320/ACJs, an A330/340, Boeing 777, two 737 NG/BBJs, a Gulfstream IV and Gulfstream V/550, the Hawker 800/800XP, Bombardier’s Global Express, the Dassault Falcon 900EX, 2000EX and 7X and finally a Bell Helicopter 212/412.
Severe Pilot Shortage
“There is a severe shortage of pilots in the Middle East and India, especially on Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 types,” said Mariamo. “A big delivery cycle is coming to Etihad, Emirates and several Indian airlines, so there is a huge demand for training. Pilots are coming in with very low hours.”
The second facility at ECFT will open in 2012 to provide additional training capacity for airline pilots and aviation maintenance technicians and will initially house four full-flight simulator bays with plans to expand to as many as 10. The first units will be for the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. “This partnership has proven over many years the ability to consistently provide world-class training programs which leverage market-leading simulation technology,” said CAE’s Group President for Civil Simulation Products, Training and Services, Jeff Roberts.
“Our strategy is to help airlines meet their growth needs,” said Mariamo. “The recession in 2008 has effectively ended in this area. Demand is now where it was before, split about 50/50 between business and commercial aviation. Business aviation has been holding up well, particularly in the mid- to large- cabin class.”
CAE was unable to provide figures for its market share in the Middle East. “I can say we are the dominant player with a very strong leadership position,” Mariamo told AIN. Indeed, a check of CAT magazine’s 2011 civil full flight simulator census confirms that CAE has supplied all of the simulators in the UAE, including seven units for Emirates and three for Etihad. In Saudi Arabia, however, CAE has captured orders for just two of the nine simulators in service, the rest having been supplied by Thales, which also supplied all three for Qatar. In India, Thales has two units, CAE five and FSI just one.
“There are so many opportunities out there,” said FSI’s Hinson. “We see no abatement in the demand for training and we’re open to pretty well anything. The problem is trying to figure out which one makes the most sense.”
In February, CAE’s Global Academy in India, announced it would establish an ab initio helicopter-training program at its Gondia facility, which opened two years ago. With an estimated requirement for 2,500 pilots over the next 10 years, the new facility is likely to be busy. It will be CAE’s first ab initio helicopter-training program and is expected to begin operations before year-end. It will use the CAE Aircrew Selection System–a multi-disciplinary process designed to evaluate a candidate’s “thinking and doing” capabilities in a contextual aviation environment and under stress.
Gondia is one of CAE’s 11 Global Academies, which form the world’s largest network of professional flight schools, with campuses in nine countries on five continents: Australia, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, India, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal and the U.S. With the addition of the new helicopter program, the Global Academy will have a fleet of more than 300 aircraft and the capacity to train about 1,900 fixed-wing commercial pilots and rotary-wing commercial and military pilots per year.
In June, CAE announced a joint venture with India’s InterGlobe Enterprises to open a new training center in Delhi to provide “pilot and maintenance training solutions for the Indian aviation market.” The center will be added to the four that CAE already operates in India. The CAE-Bengaluru facility was the first independent training center in India and the first to earn approval as a fixed-wing type rating training organization.
According to Roberts, India has a need to train more than 7,000 commercial and business aviation pilots over the next seven years. “We have progressively expanded our presence in the country to provide training across the commercial aviation spectrum, from ab initio flight schools for new airline pilots to commercial aircraft type-rating training. Now we’re doing the same for helicopter pilot training. The new Delhi center represents a further commitment of CAE to India.”