Pilot shortage looms but European commercial pilot licences are down

With talk of a looming worldwide pilot shortage whilst aircraft orders and air travel are on the increase, FTA, a UK commercial pilot training school, based in Brighton, has requested statistics from all the Aviation Authorities across Europe, to see just how many commercial pilot licences were issued in recent years in the UK and across Europe. The results were surprising.

Last year, around 4,000 initial Commercial Pilot Licences (fixed wing) or Multi Pilot Licences were issued in the EU and this number seems to be decreasing year on year in the UK, according to the CAA statistics from the last four years. Taking into account licence issues in individual countries, where statistics are available, the UK issued the most licences at 1,072 but 48 % of the licences issued were to non-UK nationals. Most of the EU statistics are available but some countries (especially the smaller ones) were not able to provide statistics, so FTA has made certain assumptive estimations for those countries, based on population.

The current figures might not be enough to meet demand when it’s consider that Boeing, the world’s largest plane manufacturer has estimated that by 2034, there will be a need for 95,000 new commercial airline pilots in the EU alone. This equates to 5,000 pilots a year.

“Are we going to run out of qualified pilots in Europe?”

“The UK is a great place for pilot training. The language of aviation is English; the weather and airspace are extremely complex and training standards are amongst the highest in the world. These key factors attract a lot of overseas students and is the main reason why the statistics for UK licence issues can seem disproportionately high,” says Jonathan Candelon, managing director at FTA.

Data obtained from the UK CAA confirms an overall decline of 31% in total Commercial Pilot Licences (CPLs) issued over the four-year period from 2011 to 2015. From a high of 1555 issued in 2011, this number has dropped to 1072 for 2014.

FTA considers this to be quite alarming, considering that airlines are on big recruitment drives. The issue is perfectly illustrated by the fact that one established low-cost carrier alone is looking to hire 600 pilots in the next year. This equates to 15% of the total annual European throughput for just one airline. There is clearly a need to encourage more people to take up pilot training, if the licence issue numbers are to increase to meet demand, as FTA predicts.

“Flexibility and being willing to go where the jobs are, working for airlines that pilots might not previously have considered and taking roles in the private jet sector are all options to consider for inexperienced pilots looking for their first job,” adds Jonathan.

But it’s not just about getting a commercial pilot’s licence, according to FTA. “Prospective students should not view a pilot licence as a commodity,” says Jonathan. “Employers look at where cadets have completed their course, their skill levels and standards. It can make a big difference on a CV or job application. Employers understand the quality and high standards of UK training and even the standards that students will have attained at individual schools. For cadets that choose ‘cheap’ courses based purely on cost, this decision might actually end up being very expensive. There is also a real difference between cost and value and aspiring cadets should consider this when looking at ATOs at the very top of the price bracket too. Pilot training is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase; it’s totally intangible and there is no value to anyone else but the candidate. So it’s very important to do your research (online and in person) to get it right first time, in terms of course, quality of training and the school that you choose.”

He concludes, “We estimate that up to 20% of the 4,000 commercial pilots that qualify are non-EU and gain employment in their home country. This brings the number of new European pilots emerging each year down to just over 3,000 and we must bear in mind that within this number some pilots will not be able to gain employment due to their personal circumstances (for instance they might not be able to relocate for that first job) or because they do not meet the airline’s profile or standards (some airlines reject up to half of candidates applying due to low standards) amongst others. This demonstrates a clear shortfall from the 5,000 required.”

FTA has also made moves to address the issues of fewer trainee pilots, aiming to address the prohibitive issues of cost and quality of training head on, with the launch of the Economy version of their Integrated Flight Deck Programme. This new version of the course takes students with zero flying experience to frozen ATPL in 16-18 months for just £59,950 (payable in installments), making pilot training more accessible, to encourage more young people to take-up pilot training.