According to Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook 2018-2037, the aviation industry will need to supply more than two million new commercial airline pilots, maintenance technicians and cabin crew over the next 20 years. So what has brought about these predicted staff shortages?

  1. Investment pressures

A 2017 study conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), entitled Future of the Airline Industry 2035, highlights the pressures airlines are facing to invest in greener forms of air travel. In Europe specifically, the European Union’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 means airlines are compelled to reduce their carbon footprint. The additional costs to airlines involved, such as conducting research into alternative fuels, may see investment routed away from recruitment.

The price of oil has also always been an issue for airlines, with the current price standing at USD$80 a barrel – the highest it’s been in four years. With this recent spike, smaller airlines could face potential grounding issues, producing an uncertain working environment for pilots and other staff.

  1. Higher consumption of air travel

IATA reports there was a total of 3.8bn air travellers in 2016 and have predicted this number will hit 7.2bn by 2035. This rise is due to a number of factors, including increasingly affordable air fares and a high consumer desire for travel. Inevitably this has led to a growing demand for aircraft, flights and pilots, resulting in training and recruitment pressures on the industry.

Interestingly, however, Boeing reports the demand for maintenance technicians has actually decreased from 648,000 to 622,000. With more aircraft being delivered worldwide, overall fleet ages are decreasing, meaning longer intervals are required between scheduled maintenance. Nevertheless, with overall fleet numbers increasing, demands for experienced, skilled engineers and technicians will undoubtedly remain high.

  1. Technology advancements

As with many other industries, the rapid development of new technologies such as AI and robotics are anticipated to have a significant impact on aviation. Leading manufacturers are now investing heavily in self-piloting urban air mobility vehicles, cargo drones and semi-autonomous commercial aircraft. Airbus already exhibits autonomous systems in several of its products used for surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance.

While such development spells new opportunities on the horizon for engineers and technicians, the traditional responsibilities of the pilot will evolve over the coming years as a result of these rapidly advancing technologies. However, with the average commercial passenger unlikely to accept a fully autonomous flight any time soon, the core role of the pilot is expected to remain paramount.

  1. Pilot poaching

Some airlines have reported a rise in ‘pilot poaching’ from the Asia Pacific region. The growth in the Chinese aviation market is at unprecedented levels, with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) reporting a rise of 13% and 549 million passengers taking to the skies – doubling since 2010. The upsurge in demand for pilots abroad has led Chinese airlines to raise salaries to entice European pilots to work for them, producing a knock-on effect for Europe’s pilot demands.

What does the future hold?

With staff shortages a very real possibility over the next ten years, attention turns to training. To ensure the next generation of pilots, engineers, technicians and cabin crew is primed to feed increasing industry demands, ATOs, colleges and universities must invest in the future. Introducing innovative training solutions, as well as making these career paths open and attractive to all students – regardless of their backgrounds – is vital to maintain the health of this global industry.