More than 50% of airlines believe there is a pilot skills shortage, according to study

Main picture © Kent Wein

Year on year, Boeing has made headlines with its prediction of a global pilot shortage. Ever-rising aircraft deliveries and large numbers of retiring pilots, among other factors, mean that Boeing predicts more than 464,000 pilots will be required before 2034. It’s not just Boeing; The Telegraph reported that the current estimate of just under 150,000 pilots will need to be bolstered by a further 235,000 recruits over the next seven years.

In response to this important issue, AeroProfessional, an international consultancy in aviation recruitment, carried out a study of airlines and pilots alike. The study consulted more than 700 pilots at different stages in their career, as well as staff of various disciplines from airlines around the world, in order to understand if there truly is a shortage, and the steps needed to tackle it.

According to the survey 76% of the airlines questioned say that they expect to increase their number of pilots by 2017. However, this isn’t the full picture; answers from the airlines proved that the issue isn’t just a pilot shortage, but a skilled pilots shortage. More than half the respondents, 55% of the airlines stated they felt the industry had a skills deficit. This seemed to affect low-cost carriers more, with 58% of budget airlines arguing this case. So why aren’t there more pilots?

“30% of pilots surveyed state the cost of training to be an obstacle.”

One issue which is a huge barrier to many new pilots is funding; 30% of pilots surveyed state the cost of training to be an obstacle. Pilots entering the industry today often face the challenge of financing their training, which can cost up to £100,000. Some low cost airlines are now offering ab-initio training, while other carriers have started paying new pilots their salaries from the time their type-rating training begins. Where years ago, this support was once standard practice, it has since fallen away as airlines realised that many people were willing to finance more and more of their training in return for an airline pilot job. It’s just one of the problems that airlines have to address in order to bridge the ever-growing demand for qualified pilots.

The study also raises the catch-22 that many newly-qualified pilots find themselves in; after completing their training, pilots need to clock up 1,500 flight hours before getting a role with most airlines, but a lack of on-the-job opportunities with carriers prohibits them from fulfilling their quota. 15% of pilots surveyed stated that they were qualified but without the training to progress, while 11% are still seeking their first role. As a result, there is the growing, and many say, worrying trend of Pay to Fly, which sees ab-initio pilots paying airlines to fly their aircraft and gain commercial flying experience outside of a simulated setting.

Elsewhere in the study, AeroProfessional also highlighted the airlines’ flawed recruitment processes, which have not really evolved over the years to meet the growing demand for skilled pilots, leading to a decrease in applicants as airlines fail to move with the times.

One airline commented, “Too many (airline) HR departments do not understand enough about aviation to differentiate (CVs), and do not have enough people qualified to assess pilots’ qualifications and experience. That leads to many (potentially) good CVs being dismissed, even before Flight Ops have a chance to lay their eyes on them.”

A way forward

So how to address this shortage? The overwhelming view from the pilots surveyed was that airlines should offer training, while other solutions including improvements in the rate of pay and working conditions for pilots. The survey noted that a pilot’s salary in the first few years is much lower than perhaps the general public would believe, supporting the theory that the aviation industry – once glamorous and highly sought – is losing its appeal.

The group of pilots also suggested the need for long-term strategic planning when it comes to finding the right pilots for the role. 71% of airlines believed that recruitment and strategic planning would be useful for their business.

AeroProfessional director Sam Sprules said, “The aviation industry is braced for dramatic growth, with an extra half a million commercial pilots required in the next 20 years.

“Airlines need to evolve accordingly, because without skilled pilots to supply this demand, the industry will suffer.”

Sprules concluded, “Skilled pilots are retiring now, airlines are growing and more passengers are flying. Action needs to be taken imminently to ensure the industry can cope with the aviation challenges of the future.”

AeroProfessional is an international consultancy specialising in developing and delivering high-impact people strategies and resourcing solutions in aviation.