Airline pilot numbers: demand swamps supply

Premium Analysis

There has been much talk about the global pilot shortage. Many airlines in the Middle East and Asia Pacific employ a significant proportion of expat pilots at premium salaries. The number of airline transport pilot certificates held in the US grew at only 1% pa from 2007 to 2017 (source: CAPA calculation from FAA data). Perhaps most shockingly, Ryanair was forced to recognise pilot unions in 2017 and has suffered from strikes, after years of dictating terms.

It may be premature to define the current situation as a pilot shortage. Global aviation has enjoyed strong traffic growth in recent years and so, it must have the pilots that it needs. However, this growth is tightening the supply of labour and the airline industry faces challenges in recruiting qualified pilots in the numbers needed to cope with future expansion.

Demand is driven not only by industry growth, but also by the need to replace an ageing pilot population as it reaches retirement. CAPA analysis of forecasts of pilot needs from Boeing, Airbus and the flight training provider CAE suggests that the annual intake of new pilots by the world's airlines will have to increase significantly.

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