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Training Pilots For The Future By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






“For many years far-sighted people have been talking of the need to provide a training establishment from which should graduate the next generation of airline pilots”.

So ran a very interesting article in the March 1959 edition of ‘The Aeroplane’ which I found in my library last evening and that for reasons that will soon become clear, caught my imagination!

I smiled when I went on to read the second paragraph of this very well written and constructed article which told us that “the matter becomes more urgent every year and the lack of any form planning became startlingly apparent on the publication of the 1957 White Paper on Defence which announced the intention of HM Government to order no more manned fighters”. Well we all know what subsequently happened to the notion from Duncan Sandys that we would need any more fast jets. The point that should not be lost though is that back then airlines such as British Overseas Airways Corporation, British European Airways, British Eagle and others were quick to take military pilots on when they left the Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. Although such options continue to exist today with the huge reduction in numbers of trained military pilots today the journey across to civil is probably little more than a trickle.

Who would have thought that the US Air Force would have been still talking about a protracted shortfall of 2,000 pilots last year or that the Federal Aviation Administration would be telling us that the number of pilots in the US has declined by 30% from the 827,000 number employed in 1987. This isn’t just a US problem it is a global problem and one that despite being regularly aired does not appear to be getting any better.

Last year Boeing predicted that the global aviation industry will need 790,000 new pilots by 2037 plus another 96,000 being needed to support the business aviation sector. Airbus figures are slightly more conservative but they don’t hide from the seriousness of the issue. In part, pilot shortages are a symptom of the industry and how the attractions of the industry have declined. It costs a lot to train a pilot and only now are airlines beginning to realise that ducking out of training hoping the problem of supply and demand will sort itself out over time is being recognised as a strategy that will fail.

Of the 790,000 new pilot forecast requirement the requirement for new pilots in North America is placed at 206,000, Europe 146,000 and Asia Pacific 261,000. Middle East airlines are suggested to require 64,000 new pilots, Latin America 57,000 and Africa, 29,000.

Global training organisations such as Canadian based CAE continue to play a very significant part training pilots for both civil aviation and defence along also with providing synthetic based training for healthcare and security professionals. Globally CAE operates the largest flight training network comprising 250 + full-flight simulators in excess of 50 training locations. Each year, CAE trains more than 120,000 pilots and graduates in excess of 1,500 new pilots across a global network of wholly-owned, joint ventures third-party and authorized training centres. In all, more than 2,000 highly-skilled instructors deliver world-class instruction for airline customers. CAE UK which is based at Burgess Hill is a major player in UK pilot training services. CAE Oxford Aviation Academy is the largest ab initio flight training network in the world providing integrated aviation training and resourcing services. Professional airline pilots have been trained at Oxford Aviation Academy flight school since 1961.

The bottom line though is that while CAE is continuing to invest to meet rising demand and airlines are beginning to get the message that more investment needs to be put into training governments are doing very little to support the aviation industry train the increasing number of pilots that will be required. Governments must also realise that a healthy and fit for purpose airline industry is crucial to the working of the economy and future GDP growth.

Part of the problem is not just that the airline industry has become less attractive as a potential career because of the high cost of entry to would-be pilots but also because of increased competition for pilots trained in the West by airlines in the Far AND Middle East and who appear to be able to pay pilots considerably more than western based airlines. The bottom line of this is that not only are airlines going to need to invest more in training of pilots they are also going to have to pay more – a lot more.

Airlines that are recruiting for pilots are essentially looking for already trained and skilled pilots if they can get them but the pot of available pilots appears to be getting thinner every year. Some airlines are getting the message though and with accommodating 600 student pilots Emirates Flight Training Academy which was opened two years ago I sworking well for them.

Cost of training pilots remains the big issue and for an individual seeking to train to first officer standard the cost for an individual would probably be in excess of £70,000 in the UK. Not surprising then that with airlines unwilling to take on the burden of training costs and the number of individuals who can afford to pay for training is limited and particularly when they recognise that the initial pay when they have qualified may be only in the region of £25,000 to £30,000 a year, explains why BALPA, the pilots trade union tells us that the number of new pilots entering the training system has contracted.

BALPA believe that to get round the problem requires the culture to change. That said BALPA does carry a significant number of newly trained and other pilots on its books as members and who one assumes are looking for jobs. The problem isn’t really with them – it is the shortage of highly skilled and experienced pilots that is the real issue in this particular debate and who are retiring at a faster rate than they are being replaced.

True, some airlines dismiss the issue of pilot shortage as being a big future issue let alone one that is already with us. To that I would suggest that they look at the number of pilots who entered the industry thirty years ago and may soon be due to retire. Gone are the days when airlines could rely on taking on trained pilots leaving the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Of course, the issue of training sufficient pilots isn’t reserved for the civil aviation sector alone. Despite considerable investment and change in how military pilots are trained the Royal Air Force continues to have a shortfall in numbers of trained fast jet pilots. In part this may be due to more trained pilots having left the service at an earlier age due to marriage and family commitments etc and in some case no doubt, changes in the offer and retirement packages brought about as a result of SDSR 2010.  The approach to how pilots are trained has significantly changed over the past ten years as synthetic based training has rightly been introduced to run alongside actual flying training. For the MOD there is no doubt that the various training schemes now under the umbrella of Ascent Flight Training in both fast jet and rotary training are paying dividends but more still needs to be done.

CHW (London – 31st January 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon





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