As global pilot shortage bites, creative solutions can offer way out of the crisis
By Bhanu Choudhrie, Founder of Alpha Aviation
As global air travel rebounds rapidly, staffing shortages have thrown a spanner in the works, and it is not just ground staff that are in short supply. More importantly, there is an acute crunch of professionals on the flight deck, a problem that is afflicting airlines across the globe. The signs of a shortage of pilots being a major hurdle for airlines and the aviation industry have been around since even before the pandemic. The 2020–2029 CAE Pilot Demand Outlook suggested that the global aviation industry would require more than 260,000 pilots by the end of this decade, however, with the current staffing crisis, this number is sure to have jumped considerably.
Consequences due to the shortage of pilots are many, but chiefly, airlines having to cancel flights, shrinking networks, and airlines pushing their existing workforce to the brink are the most severe. It is crucial that the larger aviation ecosystem comes together to work out a solution to effectively address this pilot shortage crisis, and now is perhaps the perfect time for the industry to broaden its horizons and take recourse to some creative solutions.
Pilot training is often an expensive proposition and especially with the economic climate across the world being tight, airlines can offer monetary incentives and significant improvements in remuneration to shore up their pilot population. Demand for air travel is currently high, so it is plausible that airlines stand to recoup their investment in pilots over the summer and beyond. Already, several North American airlines have introduced temporary hikes to pilots’ salaries, helping attract new entrants but also retain existing flight crews.
Raising the retirement ceiling for pilots is another great way to ensure that flying talent is retained, and planes are kept in the air. India’s recently privatised Air India has mooted a proposal to reach out to recently retired pilots, many in their late-50s. Experienced pilots bring many benefits, not least that they already possess requisite type-rating on most major aircraft in operation, often take up less time to train, and possess the right mindset. And with experience proving to be invaluable in the profession, they can also be deployed to mentor and guide their younger colleagues on the flight deck.
Localising training hubs and incentivising airlines in that region to recruit from these bases is also a great way to ensure staff retention and often recruiting pilots for jobs where they live is a great way of ensuring lesser attrition. Localising training and providing job opportunities close to home is something that we at Alpha Aviation have actively pursued through our facility in the Philippines which has had a longstanding collaboration with multiple airlines from the country.
Spinning off businesses, and floating separate entities, has also been a route explored by several airlines, particularly in the US. SkyWest airlines have recently spun-off a new charter business, allowing them to employ pilots who do not possess the requisite flying hours for mainstream commercial aircraft. Through this modification, airlines would fly smaller aircraft, cut down capacity on certain aircraft, and utilise government subsidies to ensure pilot strength is maintained, the pilots earn the required hours, and economic ramifications are kept within control.
Lastly, there have been growing calls around the world for government support to help the aviation sector to effectively rebound. Government support can come in handy for pilot training initiatives, with targeted subsidies helping aspiring pilots complete their training, appear for their exams, and log the required hours.
While there is no quick fix to resolving this predicament that the aviation industry is battling, comprehensive, creative, and coordinated action between all stakeholders is urgently required to climb out of this particular bout of turbulence.