Shortage of Pilots in Commercial-Civil Aviation

Maj. Gen. (ret.) David Ivry claims that looking ahead, we will realize that the supply of former military pilots would be drastically reduced, as the military flight schools are adapting themselves to the future needsShortage of Pilots in Commercial-Civil Aviation

165th Course of Flight Academy Graduates (Photo: IDF)

Over the last few years, we have witnessed a growth momentum in commercial air traffic worldwide. Commercial air traffic had admittedly suffered a significant setback pursuant to the 9/11 atrocities, but since then, it has been growing at a steady rate, year after year. In recent years, the average growth rate was 4% to 5% per year, while in Eastern Asia (India and China) it was 7% to 8% per year. Any parameter we may examine will indicate an increase in passenger traffic, in the global number of flights, in the number of airports and in the number of terminals. If we examined the number of new aircraft entering service each year, we would realize that the major aircraft manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, had been supplying between 350 and 400 new aircraft per year, each, about a decade ago. Today (2013 data), they have each crossed the 600 aircraft-per-year mark. Understandably, some of these new aircraft are replacing old and less efficient aircraft, but on average only one half of the new aircraft replace old aircraft, and the rest make up the annual addition to the massive aircraft fleet currently in use.

The market in question is primarily the interstate and international market. It is augmented by the regional market, which relies on smaller passenger aircraft in the 100 passenger or less category (including both jet and turboprop aircraft), manufactured by other manufacturers.

This global growth calls for operating crews across the range of occupational skills, but I would like to address the increasing demand for pilots. Just recently, two airlines in Eastern Asia announced that they were forced to reduce their flight lines owing to shortage of pilots.

The experience a pilot is required to possess in order to qualify for a commercial pilot’s license allowing him to fly passengers is relatively extensive. In most cases, a minimum experience of 1,500 flight hours is required. Gaining such experience sometimes takes years. Accordingly, it would seem that the rate at which aircraft are being manufactured and the rate at which air traffic grows are much faster than the rate at which pilots are being trained and qualified.

In various countries, the primary source for pilots who already possess flying experience is the military. Former military pilots normally possess extensive flying experience, and all they require is a technical conversion course to adapt themselves to the civilian aircraft models. This process ensures significant time savings. In recent years, this source has been producing even more pilots, for two main reasons: the defense budget cuts, which led to a reduction in flight hours, and the gradual transition to unmanned airborne vehicles. This new situation led to the release of a larger number of experienced pilots into the civilian market. Obviously, not all of them aspire to become commercial pilots, but for a while, the supply from this particular source increased.

Other sources include the civilian market, private aviation and commercial-private aviation.

If we look ahead, we will realize that the supply of former military pilots would be drastically reduced, as the military flight schools are adapting themselves to the future needs and the number of graduates has already decreased significantly.

The obvious conclusion is that civilian flying schools that qualify commercial pilots must step up their “production” in order to offset the dwindling military sources on the one hand and the growth of the aviation market on the other hand.

The laws of supply and demand will have an increasingly more dramatic effect on the aviation market in the coming years, and apparently, one of the major bottlenecks will involve pilot qualification.

It seems absurd that we are all speaking endlessly about unmanned airborne vehicles, and some experts even estimate that the F-35 will be the world’s last manned fighter aircraft, while a market analysis indicates a significant need for additional pilots.

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