Dubai Air Show: Are we facing a pilot shortage?

Shaima Rashed of Etihad Airways is one of the UAE's first female commercial pilots

The growth plans of the Gulf airlines continue to amaze and surprise - but Etihad and Emirates are not the only carriers ordering new aircraft at the Dubai Air Show.

Airlines from the Asia-Pacific region have their own expansion ambitions. The order backlog at Boeing and Airbus keeps growing.

But who is going to be flying all these aircraft?

Warnings that global aviation could face a pilot shortage made little impact when the industry was in recession and staff were being laid off.

Now that air travel is recovering, questions about who will be sitting at the controls are back on the agenda.

"The urgent demand for competent aviation personnel is a global issue that is here now and is very real," said Sherry Carbary, vice-president of Boeing Flight Services.

Airbus's latest forecast is that air traffic will grow 4.7% annually over the next 20 years. Boeing predicts 5% annual growth. That translates into a demand for between 29,220 and 35,280 new aircraft.

It means, according to a report by Boeing, that about 498,000 new commercial airline pilots will be needed over the next two decades.

Pilots by regions

Europe and the US will need a big share of the new pilots, although much depends on when and how fast these regions emerge from their economic troubles.

The real near-term growth is coming from emerging economies and relatively immature markets.

Sunday's news that Dubai's budget carrier Flydubai is buying 100 Boeing 737 aircraft underlines how airlines are exploiting previously underdeveloped travel markets.

'Unprecedented'

Nick Leontidis, president of civil products and training operations at CAE, one of the world's biggest providers of simulators and training programmes, said that other market trends were also contributing to pilot demand.

Senior pilots recruited during the aviation expansion in the 1980s and early 1990s will be approaching retirement just as demand generated from emerging economies and the expected US recovery moves up a gear.

Pilots eating on a break New US regulations will require pilots to take longer rest periods

Meanwhile, over the past decade pilot training and recruitment fell in the US and Europe - indeed, the recession led to redundancies and lay-offs. Mr Leontidis sees no reason why many of these pilots should not resume their careers.

"So long as they have got the necessary medical certificate, they could be brought back into action," he said. But it would not be enough to meet a demand that he describes as "unprecedented".

Meanwhile, tougher US regulations will require more flying experience for new pilots and longer rest periods.

It adds to the strain on the global pool of talent. There have even been reports of pilot-poaching, with airlines targeted by bigger rivals offering better terms and conditions.

Out-of-work

In the UK, at the pilots' union Balpa, head of career services Wendy Pursey said talk of a shortage was premature.

The Gulf carriers and other fast-expanding airlines were having to recruit mainly top-tier pilots - the captains - to meet their needs, she said. But further down the career ladder, there were still plenty of pilots looking for jobs.

Captain Richard Hill, chief operations officer (not operating), Etihad Airways Etihad's chief operations officer Richard Hill says his airline doesn't need to advertise, word gets around.

She said Balpa had about 500 out-of-work pilots on its books. Some might move abroad, but the expat life is neither practical nor appealing for everyone.

For Ms Pursey, if there is to be a shortage of trained pilots, it will be felt by the regional airlines as experienced staff are snapped up by the bigger and more prestigious carriers.

Even so, the major carriers are discovering they cannot rely on expats to fill their vacancies.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, which on Sunday unveiled orders and options for 199 aircraft, is also buying $200m (£124m) worth of simulators and training tools for its pilots' academy.

Etihad is investing heavily in a cadet programme, taking on about 50 trainees each year. The majority of recruits are UAE nationals.

"The demand is fairly large," said Richard Hill, Etihad's chief operations officer. "We don't have to advertise. Word gets round in the community."

At any one time there might be 5,000 applications from experienced or potential pilots on Etihad's books, he said.

Start Quote

I've been in the business for 32 years, and there has been an impending pilot shortage every year of those 32.”

End Quote Richard Hill Etihad
Pilot roadshows

Having built an aviation industry, the UAE is keen that its airlines bring local nationals through the ranks. It's part of strengthening the local economy.

Also, expats tend to eventually move on. "Most of the UAE nationals join Etihad because they want to stay and develop their career here," Mr Hill said.

Etihad even holds roadshows in schools to tempt local children into the profession. "Until five or six years ago there was not much of an option for Emiratis to become pilots, other than to join the airforce," he said.

Importantly, local nationals get free training. Foreigners must agree to repay their training costs over five years, even if they leave the airline.

With a rich source of potential and willing trainees, Mr Hill is not too concerned about a pilot shortage. "I've been in the business for 32 years, and there has been an impending pilot shortage every year of those 32," he said.

But he acknowledges that if the aviation market in Europe and the US picked up rapidly, it could have an impact on Etihad's recruitment plans as experienced expats returned or the pool of potential overseas recruits dried up.

But, then, that's why the airline, and its Gulf rivals, have started intensive training programmes. "So that we can, if necessary, increase the numbers if we were to find it difficult to recruit from the rest of the world," he said.

And with Etihad receiving far more applications than there are vacancies, he's not losing sleep over the matter just yet.

More on This Story

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    09:39: Russia crisis

    Mr Putin's press conference continues. He says the country will be back on its feet within two years. Growth will be inevitable, he says. Growth in the world economy will increase the need for energy resources, he says. But Mr Purtin says the economy still needs to be more diverse. $419bn of reserves will not be wasted he says. The government will fulfil its social obligations, he adds.

     
  2.  
    09:33: Black Friday bonanza
    John Lewis shop window

    Retail sales surged at their fastest rate in more than a decade in November, according to the Office for National Statistics. Retail sales volumes grew 1.6% from October and showed annual growth of 6.4%, the fastest annual pace since May 2004. Those figures were helped by the popularity of Black Friday this year.

     
  3.  
    09:23: Russia crisis

    Mr Putin says he hopes to see some strengthening of the rouble over the next few days. What happens if oil prices fall further? He says the government will focus its attention on those people that really need its help. He's guaranteeing to pay pensions and social security but he has just opened the door to "reduce some social spending".

     
  4.  
    09:21: Russia crisis
    President Vladimir Putin

    I think everybody understands the most important situation of the day is that of the national currency, Mr Putin says. He blames outside factors for the fall in the rouble but we have also failed to do a lot of what we had planned in terms of diversification over the last 20 years, he says. I think the central bank and the government are taking adequate measures to deal with the situation, he adds.

     
  5.  
    09:19: Russia crisis

    President Putin's annual press conference has begun and he's getting straight to the point and talking about the economy. So far it's just the numbers, unemployment is low, he says, below 5% and Russia's industrial complex should have grown by 3% by the end of the year. The government budget is running a surplus of 1.9%, he adds.

     
  6.  
    09:07: Russia crisis BBC Radio 4
    Vladimir Putin

    Russian president Vladimir Putin holds his end-of-year news conference this morning. Anne Applebaum, a former editor of the Economist, says Mr Putin's legitimacy as leader is based on a pact with the Russia people that he will bring them stability and rising living standards. In return the Russian people will live with the fact they don't really have democracy and will tolerate a great deal of corruption by him and the people around him, she says.

     
  7.  
    09:04: Russia crisis BBC Radio 4

    Anne Applebaum suggests the Russian people are likely to begin to question whether Mr Putin should stay in power if they are not getting anything in return, such as rising living standards. But there is no mechanism to remove him, she says. The test is whether he can keep the economy going over the next couple of months, in the meantime he can blame the West for the problems, or elements within Russia says Ms Applebaum.

     
  8.  
    08:56: GM suspends Russian sales
    GM logo

    GM has suspended sales of cars to Russian dealers, blaming the the "volatility of the rouble exchange rate", Bloomberg reports. Cadillacs, Opels and Chevrolets already ordered will be delivered at the agreed price, the reports says.

     
  9.  
    08:44: Newspaper review
    Business pages

    Let's have a quick look at the business pages. The Financial Times leads with that thawing of relations between Cuba and the US. It also says plummeting oil prices have hit renewable energy firms. The Telegraph says that BT is looking to raise £2bn by selling shares to fund its purchase of EE. The Times says that investors have been spooked by Russia's crisis and are abandoning emerging market debt.

     
  10.  
    08:28: North Sea oil crisis
    North Sea Oil platform

    North Sea oil firms and service providers are cutting staff and investment to save money and the industry is "close to collapse" the independent explorers' association Brindex has said. Falling oil prices are now beginning to make North Sea oil production too costly it suggests. Brent Crude has now fallen below $60 per barrel and has fallen nearly 50% since the summer.

     
  11.  
    08:10: Sony cancels The Interview

    A cinema in Texas is replacing The Interview with "Team America: World Police" says Radio 5 live presenter Rachel Burden. That might make Texans feel a bit better about the hacking of Sony Pictures, which North Korea is thought to be involved in. As well as satirising gung-ho Americans Team America World Police ridicules Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea's current leader Kim Jong-un. Take that North Korea!

     
  12.  
    07:56: Royal Mail privatisation Radio 5 live

    "There's a huge opportunity for financial institutions to game the system," Lord Myners tells Radio 5 live. He's talking about the process of "book building" whereby big investors like pension firms and insurers are approached and asked what they think a firm is worth. Transparent digital auctions would be a better way of fixing a price. says Lord Myners.

     
  13.  
    07:42: Royal Mail privatisation BBC Radio 4

    "I think actually the sale of Royal Mail was a well-balanced complex exercise and the government managed to achieve its objective, Lord Myners tells Today. When asked why UBS forecast a price of 450p for Royal Mail shares, around the time the 330p a share price was set, Lord Myners argues that is an example of the so-called "Chinese Walls" within investment banks working.

     
  14.  
    07:23: Sony cancels The Interview
    Movie poster for The Interview

    Jon Taplin who produced Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and The Last Waltz makes some interesting points on Radio 5 live about Sony's withdrawing The Interview. He points out that the biggest US movie chain AMC is owned by a Chinese firm. Many movie theatres are in shopping centres and AMC says it was under pressure from those shopping centres who were worried that shoppers would stay away if The Interview was playing. (The hackers had warned of 911-style attacks).

     
  15.  
    07:08: Mobile phone coverage Radio 5 live
    mobile phone user

    There's been a "huge row" between mobile operators and companies says BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones on Radio 5 live. The result is today's announcement that firms will invest £5bn in mobile kit to achieve 90% geographic coverage by 2017. That £5bn was going to be spent anyway says Rory, the companies wanted the government to abandon a "national roaming" scheme that they hated.

     
  16.  
    06:52: Local government pensions BBC Radio 4

    Local government pensions schemes are "staggeringly inefficient and a national embarrassment", according to the right leaning think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies which has published a report calling for a radical overhaul of them. Currently 89 separate schemes in England and Wales are £47bn in deficit, it says. The report comes on the same day as the local government finance settlement.

     
  17.  
    06:48: Local council spending Radio 5 live

    Later this morning, councils in England will find out how much money they are likely to get from the government for the next financial year. Councils are expecting a 12% cut in their budgets. They are saying that the situation is "virtually unsustainable and services will start buckling under the strain", according to BBC political correspondent, Iain Watson. The government argues that councils have coped well with cuts so far, Iain says on Radio 5 live.

     
  18.  
    06:39: Royal Mail privatisation BBC Radio 4
    Royal Mail Glasgow

    The big problem for the government was judging the price and ensuring interest from institutional investors in Royal Mail, CCLA Investment Management's James Bevan tells Today. If shares were priced too high Royal Mail might not have attracted enough interest from institutional investors. That would have meant the shares would have lost value when they debuted on the stock market, and the government "gets accused of being greedy," Mr Bevan adds.

     
  19.  
    06:33: Royal Mail privatisation BBC Radio 4

    So the report into the stock market flotation of Royal Mail has been released but James Bevan, from CCLA Investment Management tells the Today programme the report tells us "very little about what actually happened. It's more of blueprint for what should happen in the future." He says the report seems to focus more on how to deal with institutional investors in any future privatisations.

     
  20.  
    06:27: Sony cancels The Interview Radio 5 live
    A banner for "The Interview"is posted outside Arclight Cinemas

    Sony Pictures has now cancelled the release of the film that provoked a cyber attack on the company. On Radio 5 live Steve Futterman, Los Angeles reporter for CBS Radio News, says it was primarily a business decision as five major theatre chains had abandoned the comedy (called The Interview), after the hackers made references to 911-style attacks. But Mr Futterman asks: Will the film have a video release or appear on a streaming service when the situation calms down?

     
  21.  
    06:19: US interest rates Radio 5 live

    "Markets are hugely relieved that the Fed will not be tightening rates any time soon," says James Bevan, from CCLA Investment Management. On Radio 5 live Mr Bevan says the markets are now betting there will not be a rise in interest rates during the next calendar year.

     
  22.  
    06:12: Cuba new era Radio 5 live
    Havana

    "It's quite a dramatic and unexpected step," says Phillip Oppenheim, managing director of coffee company, Alma de Cuba. That's after President Barack Obama announced moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties. Mr Oppenheim thinks that announcement could make a real difference in two or three years time. He says that Cuba is very slowly being liberalised. It's become easier to set up small businesses, for example.

     
  23.  
    06:09: Royal Mail privatisation Radio 5 live

    Peter Hahn from Cass Business School explains that big institutional investors were approached in what's known as a "pilot fishing" exercise to ascertain a price Royal Mail. They, of course, were incentivised to quote a low price. Mr Hahn says that's a slightly simplified scenario - but was basically what happened. "IPOs (initial public offerings) are always more of an art than a science," Mr Hahn says on Radio 5 live.

     
  24.  
    06:07: Royal Mail privatisation
    Royal Mail"s Glasgow mail centre at St Rollox

    The government made £180m less from the £2bn sale of Royal Mail than it could have, a report commissioned by Business Secretary Vince Cable has said. It says shares could have been valued up to 30p more than the flotation price of 330p because of the high level of demand from banks and individuals. It said future government share sales should be more transparent and the pricing could be set at a later stage.

     
  25.  
    06:03: Markets boosted by US Fed

    US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen had some Christmas cheer for investors and borrowers on Wednesday when she signalled the central bank planned to be "patient" before raising interest rates. Most analysts had expected the Fed to signal its willingness to raise interest rates early next year but Ms Yellen's comments suggest the bank it wiling to wait a little longer. That's given markets a boost so far today.

     
  26.  
    06:02: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    If you want to get in touch you can email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or tweet us @bbcbusiness.

     
  27.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. It's going to be another busy morning by the looks of things. Yesterday's reassurance from the US Federal Reserve has cheered markets in Asia and even lifted the Russia rouble. Meanwhile, Royal Mail was "underpriced" by £180m, a report into its stock market flotation has found. There's lots more to come, so stay with us.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.