The Looming

Pilot Shortage



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Always dreamed of becoming a pilot?

The world’s airline companies are predicted to need more than half-a-million new pilots over the next two decades. That’s the equivalent of about twenty-eight thousand (28,000) pilots each year.

Meeting this huge demand won’t be easy. Training a new pilot is a long process, typically taking about eighteen months.

It also requires deep pockets: a trainee pilot can rack up debts of over a hundred thousand pounds to get a license in the UK.

This is an issue that deeply troubles the British Association of Pilots.

Jim McAuslan, General Secretary, British Airline Pilots’ Association: “We’ve been pressing, for instance, to use an apprenticeship levy as a means of helping. We’d like to see the industry itself put in money.

‘You want to become a pilot, then you pay for it.’ I don’t think that’s fair.

And what is happening is that the industry is now struggling to get enough pilots to fly the aircraft. So the industry has been very short-sighted about this.

We’ve been suggesting to the minister, and to leading chief executives, we need to get together, and find a far better way of making sure that the UK has enough pilots for the future.”

Historically, airlines paid for an individual’s training. But today, the onus is on the aspiring pilot. Most trainees have to cover the cost with loans from the bank, or by borrowing from family.

British Airways is a number of airlines that offers a sponsorship program, which gives between fifty and one hundred people each year a loan to fund up-front costs, that’s then repaid when they become a full-time pilot.

Much of the pilot’s training is carried out in state-of-the-art simulators like the ones at BA’s training center in Heathrow. They offer the ability to recreate every aspect of flying a plane, without having to take off into the sky.

Captain David Thomas, Head of Flight Technician and Training, British Airways: “Training’s really expensive for us, so as you’ve seen, we have an amazing facility here. And that’s cost a lot to put together, I have to say.

But the training is an absolutely must. In fact we literally bake the cost of training a pilot into the everyday cost of a pilot, because it’s something we absolutely have to do. We have very high standards for the pilots we recruit.

And I very pleased to say we are getting the exact numbers through the door. But we’re not complacent.”

Airlines believe one answer to addressing the shortfall in pilots is to attract more females. Globally, only about three percent of pilots are women. That’s about four thousand out of about a hundred, thirty-thousand (130,000) pilots worldwide.

Helen Macnamara, Senior First Officer, British Airways: “I think the way we should try to encourage more female pilots in the industry is to try to increase the visibility. A lot of people don’t consider careers they haven’t seen someone themselves doing. So female pilots can get out to communities, speak to schools and colleges, and just been seen generally at the terminals by customers. That increases visibility.”

But even with more women, airlines are facing a looming crisis of not having enough pilots to fuel future growth.

Oliver Sleath, Analyst, Barclays: “There will be at some point more of a crunch point, and we see it a little bit in places like Eastern Europe for instance where some of the local carriers there, have had to raise their flight hour pay for first officers to avoid them going off to other regions.

But for the time being in Europe, although it’s getting tighter, it’s not yet a challenge because so many people are still want to do this career and happy to take on those big financial burdens.”

It looks like a longer term solution could be needed for the industry, with airlines, training providers and governments working together to make sure becoming a pilot remains an attractive and affordable career, and not one just for the rich.

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1. There is a glut of qualified airline pilots. There is too much competition since everyone wants to be a pilot. True or false?

2. How long does it take to qualify as a pilot? Is it an easy process?

3. Is the training program cheap, medium-priced or expensive? Who usually pays for the training? Has the system been changing?

4. Pilots always train in real airplanes. Is this correct or incorrect?

5. What is another untapped source of pilots? How can they increase this number?

6. What has happened in Eastern Europe?

7. Only aspiring pilots can solve the looming pilot shortage. Is this right or wrong?


A. My friends and I would like to become pilots. Yes or no? Did you want to become a pilot when you were younger?

B. Would you like to “play” in a flight simulator?

C. Do you know anyone who is a pilot?

D. Are there lots of commercial aircraft, private jet planes, and small, propeller airplanes?

E. How can the looming pilot shortage be solved?

F. What will happen in the future?


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