While the pandemic alleviated the pilot shortage almost overnight a year ago, the shortage could reemerge within nine months and grow worse over the decade, according to a study released yesterday by global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. In fact, the study estimates that the global demand for pilots on Jan. 1, 2022, will be 326,594 versus a supply of 316,435; by 2029, the study predicted, those numbers will be 416,709 and 357,214, respectively—a nearly 60,000-pilot shortfall.
The root cause of the coming shortage varies by region, the study said. “In the U.S., it’s an aging workforce facing mandatory retirement, fewer pilots exiting the military, and barriers to entry, including the cost of training,” the report noted. “In China and other regions where a burgeoning middle class is demanding air travel, the struggle is to expand capacity fast enough.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic has caused airlines to curtail cadet programs as they furloughed pilots and banks reduced lending for pilot training, creating a pilot-supply shock and causing pilot candidates to think twice about entering such a cyclical industry. “With the global nature of this shock, we believe 25,000 to 35,000 current and future pilots may choose alternative career paths over the next decade,” the study said.
Though many furloughed pilots will return, some might pursue other opportunities, according to the study. Additionally, airlines in some regions have relied heavily on early retirements to reduce costs, which permanently decreases the supply.
“The most important question is not whether a pilot shortage will reemerge, but when it will occur and how large the gap will be between supply and demand,” the study concluded.