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Pilot Shortage

Old 03-03-2008, 07:38 PM
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Default Pilot Shortage

I've talked about this in previous posts. I'm telling you, the world is running out of pilots. We need to stick to our guns...

"Beyond Crews Control"

A shortage of pilots is tripping up freighter
expansion plans in Asia, and many believe the
airlines' new capacity is going to get worse
Ian Putzger
Texas is still waiting for its freighter link to Shenzhen in the heart of
the Pearl River Delta.

According to plan, Jade Cargo Airlines was due last June to launch weekly 747-400 freighter lights from its Shenzhen, China, base through Shanghai to the North, across the Pacific to Vancouver and on to Houston. The strategy was to be the latest addition of cargo capacity to an already-busy trade lane, but the space was coming to secondary cities that didn't necessarily have the yield and pricing problems of the more familiar gateways. Instead, Jade's effort hit a roadblock on a second capacity front that rarely catches the
attention of the air cargo business.

The airline wasn't hit by the lack of aircraft availability, nor by the lack of freight looking for a way across the ocean. Instead, Jade Cargo's first trans-Pacific venture was tripped up by a lack of pilots. Initially Jade signaled that the problem would be resolved soon to clear the way for flights through Portland, Ore., to Dallas instead of the original routing. But the pilot shortage is still hurting the airline.

Operations had to be pared down, and U.S. flights have receded into an uncertain future.
"In the short term, Jade is not going to fly to the U.S.," said Nils Haupt, director of corporate communications at Lufthansa Cargo, one of the parent companies of Jade Cargo. "First they have to stabilize the situation."

Perhaps the best reflection of the magnitude of the challenge is that Jade now is led by Kay Kratky, Lufthansa Cargo's former senior vice president of transportation and flight operations. He was dispatched to China last year to assess and remedy the situation. For airlines that normally depend on analyzing the basics of aircraft economics and market dynamics in assessing routes and strategies, a shortage of qualified pilots has provided a rude awakening to changes well outside the usual trade lanes. In Asia, where countries have seen an upheaval in trading
patterns in recent years, finding pilots has emerged as one of they toughest issues for start-ups as well as incumbent airlines.

Marsha Bell, vice president of marketing of Alteon Training, the commercial training arm of Boeing, pointed to the growth rate of aviation in China, which basically sees a doubling of the commercial jet aircraft fleet in three years.

Freighter operators in the region are helping feed that demand. "China needs on average 2,500 pilots a year over the next 20 years," she said. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the country will need over 9,000 more pilots by 2010 to handle the controls of the new Boeing and Airbus planes that are entering the Chinese fleet at a rate of 150 a year. Between December 2007 and 2012, Airbus stands to deliver 372 planes to Chinese airlines and Boeing is on course for 335 aircraft.

China's flight schools cannot keep up with this pace. Last September, the CAAC warned they could only train 7,000 pilots until 2010, leaving a shortfall of 2,000. The authorities as well as the Chinese carriers are straining to boost training capacities. The CAAC has reached out to the International Air Transport Association to find a way to incorporate the new multi-crew training concept in its licensing processes. Air China has reserved land to build a training center in Beijing with 30 flight simulators, probably the largest facility in the world. In Shanghai, Alteon opened a training center at the end of last year that can train 600 pilots in a year. It is equipped with a 757/767 simulator, to which a 787 simulator is due to be added shortly.

Due to strong demand in China for the new 787, Alteon is looking for a second location for a 787 simulator, Bell said. Interestingly, the company is unlikely to deploy a 777 simulator in the region.
The twin-engine, long haul widebody has proved a popular aircraft in Asia and is just hitting the freighter market, where its flexibility is considered important to the varying stage lengths and changing markets within Asia.

As 777 operators tend to buy their own simulators, Alteon will probably team up with a 777 carrier to market its excess training capacity, as it has done with ANA in Japan, Bell said.

Worried about the strain on traffic control and congested airports as well as the flight crew hortage, the CAAC is stepping on the brakes to keep aviation growth in check. Flights to and from the main hubs were curtailed last fall, and approval for new start-ups has slowed to a crawl. By some estimates, close to 20 aspiring carriers in China are waiting for operating licenses at the moment.

For the foreseeable future, China will have to supplement the output of its training schools with pilots from other countries, Bell said. But the changing dynamics within Asia are only part of the story. The growth of trade within the region and the swelling supply chains connected to Europe and North America are drawing more capacity from carriers outside the region, and some of that is eating up workforce capacity.

The increasingly open air services treaties and operating agreements between countries and regional blocs such as the Association of Southeast Asia Nations countries also has made hiring pilots more competitive on an international scale.

Having an open regulatory environment that allows the recruitment of expatriate flight crews can be a big advantage for an airline, according to Ram Menen, executive vice president of cargo of Emirates Airlines. "We can recruit pilots from any nationality. In the EU, you need EU nationals," he said.

Emirates and other Middle Eastern airlines have been accused of aggressively recruiting pilots from other countries, but they are not the only ones that are looking far and wide for flight crews. Korean Air has expedition teams that regularly visit the United States and some other countries, such as Brazil.

Indian carriers have also been eager to sign up experienced pilots from North America. "Increasingly airlines are looking globally for pilots. The market is changing. In the past, pilots usually stayed with one airline," said Bell.

Indeed, the pilot shortage has become a global issue; it is just more pronounced in Asia, thanks to China's rapid growth in aviation, she said. According to IATA, about 17,000 pilots are going to be needed every year in the next 18 years to match the projected growth in the world jet aircraft fleet of some 19,000 new planes until 2025.

The situation is in danger of turning dire soon in Australia, according to Regional Express, the country's largest regional carrier. By its estimates, the country needs an additional 1,800 pilots over the coming two years but will probably train less than half of that. Larger carriers will poach pilots from regional operators, driving some of the smaller outfits to the wall, the carrier warned.
In the United States, legacy carriers have had to cancel flights due to insufficient flight crews.

However, the causes of these problems are hotly disputed between carrier management on one side and pilot groups on the other. Northwest and United Airlines have come under harsh criticism from the Air Line Pilots Association, which has argued the shortages were the result of mismanagement, chiefly from over-zealous job cuts as airline boards tried to trim costs to stem
hemorrhaging losses.

Some relief came last December, when the government raised the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65 years. By Federal Aviation Administration estimates, this should alleviate the shortage by some 3,800 pilots in the coming years.

Elsewhere the legislative move in Washington was received less enthusiastically. Airlines in a number of countries where the retirement age was set at 65 have traditionally wooed pilots from jurisdictions with a 60-year cut-off mark, Bell said. "That pool is dwindling. Most countries are moving to 65," she said.

IATA favors the raising of the retirement roof to 65, but argues this is not enough to prevent a serious shortage in the coming years. The airline body has been pushing for a new approach to pilot training, notably the multi-crew pilot licensing training program the International Civil Aviation
Organization endorsed in 2006. This concept is more aircraft-focused and simulator-based, as opposed to the traditional approach, which emphasizes actual flying and prepares a pilot for solo flying.

At the FAA's International Safety Forum in Washington last December, IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani stressed the need for new training parameters. "Pilot training has not changed in 60 years. We are still ticking boxes with an emphasis on flight hours," he said.
The idea has been embraced by the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, which last year launched an initiative to apply multi-crew license standards across Asia, Bell said.

Changing training parameters and boosting capacities must be met with a drive to entice young people to want to become pilots. The profession has lost some of its glamor, resulting in lower numbers of applicants, according to Jade's Kratky. The airlines have to do a better job marketing the career to potential candidates, he says.

Bell agrees the profession has lost some of its luster, in part because of the cuts in numbers as well as in pilot benefits and remuneration in recent years. "We need to reinstall some of the romance and excitement that used to be associated with this job," she said. Arguably this could be tougher for all-cargo carriers, with their flights at odd hours and destinations as likely to include industrial zones as the more familiar gateways. "Passenger airlines tend to pay more and offer better lifestyles, so cargo is feeling the squeeze more," said Ron Mathison, general manager and
director of cargo at Cathay Pacific.

Most airline executives are at pains to deflect suggestions that cargo could be hurt more than passenger operations. "There will be a lot of demand for passenger pilots, but I don't think it will put pressure on us. Some pilots like to fly for cargo airlines, because no day is the same," said Menen.

Some carrier executives, on the other hand, suggest the pain may be worse on the cargo side.
Ken Choi, who retired from the helm of Korean Air Cargo at the end of last year, said in November the world's largest international cargo carrier occasionally had to wet-lease freighters due to limitations on cockpit crews even though it had aircraft available. "It's almost impossible for cargo planes to have their own crews because they're all in use on passenger planes," he said.

In any case, the situation is unlikely to get easier in the near term and there is widespread agreement that carriers and their customers are seeing only the start of a longer-term phenomena. "I think the pilot shortage will really bite in 2010," Menen said.

Air Cargo World -- Features
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Old 03-03-2008, 07:43 PM
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