Airlines predict global pilot shortages as aircraft orders go through the roof

Airlines predict global pilot shortages as aircraft orders go through the roof

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has sounded the alarm: Between 500,000 and 600,000 pilots will need to be recruited over the next two decades as the number of aircraft in service is predicted to double by 2044. According to figures released by Boeing in June – which are almost identical to those communicated by Airbus – there will be 48,575 aircraft plying the airways within 20 years’ time, compared with 24,500 today.

This expected trajectory – which seems hardly compatible with the fight against global warming – has been corroborated by a series of massive orders placed by the world’s leading airlines. At the recent Dubai Air Show, which ended on Friday, November 17, Emirates caused quite a stir with its announcement concerning the purchase of 90 Boeing 777X long-haul jets for their catalog price of $52 billion (around €47.7 billion), plus 15 Airbus A350 jumbo airlines for an additional $5.5 billion.

At the Paris Air Show in June, Airbus attracted attention with the order it received − described as “historic” − from Air India for 500 Airbus A320s for €44 billion. And that’s not all: Airbus and Turkish Airlines have reached an agreement in principle for 355 Airbus aircraft for a price of €53 billion.

Recruitment and hiring not keeping up

This steady increase in the number of commercial aircraft has already been putting “pressure on recruitment” of pilots, said Marc Rochet, president of Air Caraibes and low-cost airline French Bee. The shortage first became apparent when the long-haul sector began to climb out of its Covid-era slump, because services to far-flung destinations are very crew-intensive. According to Alexandre Blanc, Air France’s Executive Vice President for Flight Operations, “five crews − which is to say 10 pilots − are needed at the controls of a medium-haul aircraft, [and] 21 to 24 are needed for a long-haul [aircraft].”

The war in Ukraine has not helped matters. The requirement to steer clear of Russia “lengthens routes from Europe to Asia and Japan by two hours. We’re exceeding the 13.5-hour flight limit, which forces airlines to increase the number of pilots per crew from three to four,” added this head of Air France pilots. “The shortage of pilots is already an issue,” said Guillaume Hue, an aviation specialist with Archery Strategy Consulting. “It’s been limiting airline expansion even more than has aircraft availability.”

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Despite these warnings, the system for training pilots has yet to adapt its processes in response to the IATA’s projections. In Toulouse, “a total of 23 students” graduate each year from the National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC), said Kirsty Benet-Scott, recruitment and competitive examinations manager. Nothing is likely to change “for the 2024 examination,” she said, with still only 23 accepted out of “1,200 airline pilot candidates.”

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