A Concrete Step to Address Pilot Shortage

The airline industry offers tremendous opportunity and job security for pilots, especially with such robust growth in air travel projected over the next twenty years

Issue: 1 / 2018By John SlatteryPhoto(s): By EmbraerIllustration(s): By Anop Kamath

 

By John Slattery
President & CEO, Embraer Commercial Aviation

 

A shortage of pilots is a real threat to the airline industry, but the Air Carrier Training Rulemaking Committee (ACT ARC) of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is finally proposing concrete steps to address the issue. Read more in my latest blog post. Last month, the FAA’s ACT ARC issued its recommendations to provide an alternative pathway to the famous “1,500-hour rule.” This does ot solve the entire pilot shortage issue, but it is the biggest development in many years that goes a long way to help the situation.

A shortage of pilots is a real threat to the airline industry and it is already an issue in some world regions. Despite the US carriers being the most vocal, Chinese, European and Asian airlines are also working hard to staff their cockpits.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) predicts a need for around 5,00,000 new pilots in the next 15 years. That is roughly 20 per cent more than the current capacity to train them. On top of that, an ever-shrinking number of students are willing to take classes to become a pilot. According to the FAA of the United States (US) FAA, the number of pilot certificates issued to students shrunk an average of 2.7 per cent annually over the last five decades.

The shortage has already caused airlines to cancel hundreds of flights this year. Some communities lost air services completely which forced passengers to travel further just to get to a functioning airport. The Committee’s proposed modification would allow new hires to obtain a certificate with restricted privileges after completing an Enhanced Qualification Programme (EQP). With a predefined curriculum, the programme would be executed mostly by regional airlines with help from the FAA.

One way to attract more pilots is to shorten the time to progress through training and to accumulate qualifying hours

In short, this new way of thinking equates hours in classrooms and simulators with experience operating an aircraft by accumulating ‘credits’ to reduce the total number of required flight hours.

Two credit accounting methods were proposed:

  • 250 academic hours credited for every candidate that completes the EQP, effectively reducing the required flight hours by the same amount.
  • 750 academic hours credited to candidates that complete the EQP, effectively reducing the required flight hours by 250 for candidates with military background, 500 flight hours for candidates with a four-year bachelor degree and 750 flight hours for candidates with two-year bachelor degree.

Airlines are also developing other alternatives to mitigate the problem. Some are working to attract new pilots at a much earlier age, even as early as high school. JetBlue Airways for example, has set up its own programme by offering internships for aspiring commercial pilots while students are at the university. United Airlines is linking up with flight training schools and developing career path programmes so that students have a job upon graduation.

Carriers are also offering generous signing bonuses, raising pay scales and improving benefits. One way to attract more pilots is to shorten the time to progress through training and to accumulate qualifying hours. That time savings translates into cost savings for a new recruit and up to two years more time earning a career salary. That is a significant incentive.

There are encouraging signs that these initiatives are working, particularly in the USA. Airlines there are getting back on track to meet their future staff levels. I am optimistic that we, as an industry, will find new ways to bring a whole new generation of pilots into the cockpits of our airplanes.

Flying is a fantastic career. If you are considering a future in the skies, the airline industry offers tremendous opportunity and job security for pilots, especially with such robust growth in air travel projected over the next twenty years.