Boeing released a projection Tuesday showing an ever-growing need for more pilots and aircraft-maintenance technicians worldwide as the aviation industry booms across the globe.
The Boeing forecast pegs worldwide demand over the next two decades at more than half a million new commercial pilots and nearly 600,000 maintenance technicians.
Sherry Carbary, Boeing vice president of flight services, said the supply in the U.S. is currently “keeping up with demand” but that “there could be an issue in some of these developing countries if we don’t come together and deal with it.”
Though Carbary seemed to minimize the risk of a serious pilot shortage ahead, some in the industry fear one developing in high-growth markets overseas and even in the United States.
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In May, new low-cost carriers in Japan attributed a series of flight cancellations to a pilot shortage.
In the U.S., a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in February found “mixed evidence.”
The GAO study said reduced pilot wages and employment levels in the past decade suggest there hasn’t been a shortage up to now. However, it added that flight schools “reported fewer students entering their programs resulting from concerns over the high costs of education and low entry-level pay at regional airlines.”
“Nearly all of the regional airlines that GAO interviewed reported difficulties finding sufficient numbers of qualified entry-level first officers,” the report states.
John Nance, veteran airline pilot and aviation commentator, said it’s “myopic” to deny a pilot shortage looms.
He cited new safety rules the Federal Aviation Administration put in place a year ago that increased the required flying time to qualify as a first officer on a U.S. airline from 250 hours to 1,500 hours.
“The market is having problems right now for the first time in my 45 years with the aviation business,” said Nance. “Especially regional carriers and nighttime cargo carriers are desperate right now. These new rules put them in a real corner.”
He also cited the lack of manual flying experience, as opposed to instrument flying, that contributed significantly to the crash of an Asiana Airlines 777 that killed three passengers at the San Francisco airport last July.
“We are going to have a large pilot shortage in the future, especially if we raise the standards to never have another Asiana,” Nance said. “We’ve got a lot of retraining to do in the world.”
In contrast, the Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) insists there is no shortage of qualified pilots, only a shortage of pilots willing to work at entry-level wages.
According to ALPA’s pay-rate data, the average starting salary for new first officers in the U.S. regional airline industry is just $22,400.
In response to the GAO report in February, Capt. Lee Moak, president of the pilots association, said, “There is a shortage of pay and benefits for pilots in the regional airline industry, not a shortage of pilots who are capable and certified.”
Boeing forecasts that North America in the next two decades will need 88,000 new pilots and 109,000 new maintenance technicians.
The greatest demand is projected for the Asia-Pacific region, where in the same period airlines will need an additional 216,000 pilots and 224,000 new technicians.
Boeing’s Carbary said the airline industry, government and training institutions “need to come together now and address this issue so there isn’t a shortfall.”
She said the projected demand should make aviation “a high-tech, sexy industry” for young people starting their careers.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org