jueves, 22 de junio de 2023

Frenzied Global Demand and Looming Shortage Drive Market for Pilots

June 16, 2023

Training providers have seen unprecedented growth in demand for flight instruction. (Photo: L3Harris)

Aviation training and simulator companies expect the demand for pilots to increase faster than industry observers previously believed it would.

L3Harris’s forecast for pilot demand, based on data related to its academy business, indicates a need by 2030 for some 350,000 additional pilots, about a third resulting from attrition and about two-thirds from escalating demand. “That’s a staggering number in such a short period of time,” David Coward, L3Harris v-p and general manager for training services, told AIN.

L3Harris’s estimate implies a requirement for an average of 50,000 pilots a year over the next seven years, while Boeing’s 2022-2041 forecast shows a need for 602,000 over a 20-year span, or about 30,100 new pilots a year over the longer term.

Coward oversees two parts of L3Harris’s training business. One is ab initio training, where the company operates academies in the UK and Florida. “This is taking students, generally at school or college age, with little or no flying experience, and progressing them through all stages of pilot training culminating in their commercial transport licenses,” he said.

The other side of the business—L3Harris’s simulator training centers network—operates a training facility at its London Training Centre in the UK, which it shares with the academy and where it also manufactures simulators. It has another simulator training center in Bangkok, as well as operations through a partnership with Paramount Aviation Services in Miami.

“We offer end-to-end training solutions that span a pilot’s entire career, from initial training as a commercial airline pilot to recurrency, type ratings, and command upgrades after that,” said Coward.

The period spanning 2022-23 marked a significant turning point for L3Harris, post-Covid. “[The year] 2021 was fairly suppressed due to the effects of Covid, but since 2022 we’ve seen the industry rebound strongly as travel restrictions eased,” he said. “The improvements have come in two phases; one, the number of trainees in our training programs as well as the utilization of our simulators, which are running almost at full capacity, and two, the return of airline-partnered training programs.

“Due to demand during the pandemic, almost all airline programs ceased, but they are now being relaunched. The most recent partnership we’ve announced in Europe is with Japan’s All Nippon Airlines, where we’re training their pilot pipeline for the future, while in the U.S. we now have 14 airline pathway partnerships running.”

On the simulator side, as airlines purchase new aircraft to meet future demand, Coward sees a knock-on effect for training devices, resulting in some significant wins over the past 12 months.

Coward said the pilot shortage could affect airline operations through day-to-day pain points, such as several well-documented flight delays this year. “Furthermore, it could inhibit growth,” he warned. “Post-pandemic passenger demand is increasing rapidly and is predicted to return to 2019 levels in 2024 if not 2023. That demand could be derailed by the ability of airlines to position crews to service customers without a strong pipeline of pilots.”

Covid affected flight school capacity too. In April, Scotland's Tayside Aviation ceased operations, taking capacity out of the training market and exacerbating the shortage. “This combination of less supply, decreasing capacity, and increased demand is going to exacerbate the challenge,” noted Coward.

Although looming for years, the pilot shortage has worsened due to Covid’s catastrophic impact on the number of aspiring pilots starting training, which, in turn, has reduced the number of graduating cadets. With post-Covid flows now starting to grow again, demand for commercial air travel has followed suit.

“Training carries a lead time due to the complexity involved; if airlines don’t start planning for their pilot needs now, they are in danger of facing pilot shortages in the very near future,” said the L3Harris executive. “The second aspect is that, as confidence returns to the aviation industry, we have seen a big rise in demand for simulator training, which puts a lot of pressure on simulator utilization.”

The conditions to which L3Harris refers have spurred demand for pilot-hiring services. Gregory Newman, vice-president at Wilmington, Delaware-based PilotsGlobal, reported that the company saw the most activity in North America, most notably in the U.S. Elsewhere around the world, the EU and MENA region have begun recruiting again, while Asia-Pacific airlines have only slowly started to hire.

“The industry and our business outlook continue to be cautiously optimistic given the nature of the global climate as well as the traction we’ve seen,” he said. “From our point of view, user traffic...is up 300 percent when comparing the first quarters of 2022 and 2023. This translates to us processing multiple thousands of pilot job applications daily, with that number only set to continue to grow.”

Not surprisingly, the manpower shortage has led to increases in pilot salaries. Newman cited a recent agreement that would see Delta Air Lines pilots’ income increase 34 percent over four years.

“At some of the smaller companies, we’ve seen salaries being raised by 100 percent in order to stay competitive and recruit pilots and we don’t see it showing any signs of stopping,” he said. “We also see potential pilot strikes, which push for further pay increases and other concessions across the board from their unions as a potential temporary hiring issue, with the long-range outcome meaning a more solid footing for pilots who eventually join these unions when all of the negotiations are settled.”

As profitability soared in 2022, major U.S. airlines were all hiring, as was the business aviation sector. “We see a fairly even split of jobs posted to PilotsGlobal—airline versus corporate,” he said. “Along with base compensation rising, U.S. airlines are improving benefits such as improved scheduling. In 2022, U.S. airlines hired more than 11,000 pilots; 2023 is expected to surpass 12,000 and set a new record.”

The airlines have reevaluated this year's summer schedules, however, and early signs pointed to some over-enthusiasm by the carriers, thanks to restrained optimism caused by high energy prices, continued geopolitical conflict, the threat of a new resurgence of Covid-19, and a slowing global economic environment.

In places like the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany, where Newman cited reports of Lufthansa canceling 34,000 flights from its summer timetables, airlines pared back schedules due to a mix of staffing shortfalls, operational "meltdowns" experienced by the likes of U.S. carrier Southwest Airlines at the end of 2022, and inflation causing would-be passengers to reconsider their travel plans.

“The greatest hole we see in the market is in China, which is yet to reopen save for the Special Administration Region cases of Cathay Pacific and Air Macau, which are starting to show small signs of life," added Newman. "Overall, China is nowhere near the capacity it could be. Additionally, there are certain flag-carrying airlines—Thai, Turkish, and Egypt airlines are examples—that are continuing to hire domestically in their respective regions but still haven’t picked up their international hiring programs.”

Newman said new Saudi flag carrier Riyadh Air has pushed to build its captain and first officer ranks but he added that he expected the new airline to complement, rather than challenge incumbent, Saudia. “There is great interest in these roles, and Riyadh Air has received over 1,000 referrals through PilotsGlobal,” he said. “Overall we don’t see Riyadh hiring negatively impacting Saudia, specifically since they will both be recognized by the Kingdom as crown carriers.”

Kit Darby of Peachtree City, Georgia-based Kit Darby Aviation Consulting, said demand for pilots in 2023 will prove fierce, and next year even more pronounced. “The U.S. market has exploded,” he said. “Major airlines will hire 10,000 to 12,000 [pilots] this year. The previous record was 5,000 in the second half of last year.”

According to Darby, U.S. regional airline SkyWest tried unsuccessfully to drop 29 cities it serves under essential air service contracts with the government. “SkyWest lost 250-plus pilots in each of the last three months,” he said. “That will be 3,000 over 12 months. They have about 5,000 pilots. That is not going to work. Southwest and JetBlue are limiting hiring due to a lack of instructors.

“The pilot and instructor shortages are starting to limit business and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “There are no short-term solutions in sight, except foreign pilots. Many are trying the National Interest Waiver but only a few have been approved so far. It is hard to know if it will be part of a short-term solution. The union will go nuts but there is no denying they are needed.”

Long-term better pay, the financing of flight training, and airline bridge programs will all help, said Darby. But those efforts will take three to five years to start showing results and the problem is here and now, he believes. “I have examples of pilots that have been away for 19 years returning to the major airlines after just six months at the regional,” he said. “Pilots that have not flown in years are coming out of the woodwork but the total numbers returning to the profession are small compared to what is needed.”

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