In the next twenty years, China and Asia will need to find a quarter of a million new pilots if it hopes to continue to grow at the current rate. Even now, the region is suffering under a considerable pilot shortage which is affecting industry growth, but studies show this is only going to get worse. A number of factors have influenced this shortage – it could be good news for those already qualified as pilots and even more so, those looking to work as commercial airline pilots. But we are yet to see what the knock on effects might be.
Boeing estimates that by 2037, China will need 128,500 pilots, Southeast Asia 48,500 and South Asia 42,750 pilots. This breaks down as a need for 12,000 newly qualified pilots a year. Far more than we’re currently seeing.
Four reasons for the pilot shortage in Asia
The primary reason for this pilot demand surge is the rising wealth and increased travel expectations of China’s growing middle class. Until just ten years ago, travel visas were hard to come by, but now things have changed. China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022. The power of the Yuan is courted everywhere, from Paris to Dubai and Asian airlines are scrambling to meet demand.
In addition, more pilots are set to retire over the next decade than in the previous years. Essentially, we experienced a ‘baby boom’ of qualifying commercial pilots and now they’re ready to tip their wings in the general direction of Florida.
Another factor behind the pilot demand in China and Asia is dictated by the nature of the Chinese market. For the first time, Chinese and South East Asian businesses are physically traveling more. They are also looking for private luxury jet travel and helicopter and fly tours. Wealthy Asian tourists enjoy seeing the sights from above rather than on the ground and what Chinese pilots and commentary. Trips flying over the Pyramids, across the Alps and around the British Coast line are increasingly popular.
The fourth factor is a logistical one. The pilot training industry is already struggling with training bottlenecks and there simply aren’t enough facilities to meet demand.
What the Asian pilot shortage means for Western pilots
The number of cockpit crew working in China almost doubled in the last six years. China’s main airlines — China Eastern, Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines have been recruiting staff from abroad at an astonishing rate. Third party recruiters such as WASINC have also found a new revenue stream. They’re already courting qualified pilots from Central and Latin America as well as Europe and the US with take home pay packets at twice what western airlines offer thanks to a tax free program from the Chinese government. This incentive is turning many heads.
Training tomorrow’s pilots for Asia
There are only 22 pilot schools in the whole of China and only a handful in the rest of Asia. Militray restrictions on the use of domestic airspace mean setting up new schools s hard. Increasingly, the Chinese airlines are sending their recruits abroad.
This is good news for flight schools in the US, Canada and Australia and many have cashed in the last few years but that could be about to change. Chinese companies and airlines have decided it’s better to buy than pay and from Australia to the US, flight schools are now increasingly Chinese owned.
The one exception is with the Qantas Pilot training school. The Australian airline plans to cash in on the pilot demand crisis by opening a flight school o to train up to 500 pilots a year. Playing on their brand name, they intend to attract private and sponsored individuals from across the world keen to enter the market. Boeing has also already created an accelerated pilot development programme of its own.
Wider effect of pilot shortages
However, pilot and crew shortages affect the industry on a much wider level than simply pilot salaries and new job openings. A shortage of pilots puts the aviation industry’s growth as a whole at risk. Without pilots, planes don’t fly, prices rise and middle class people fall out of love with air travel.