In Asia and the Middle East, airlines are ordering new planes each year, with an option to purchase even more as time goes by. The problem is that few of these countries have the pilot force necessary to fly the additional airliners. As a result, these regions will be facing a critical shortage of pilots as air travel increases. Some have already begun to see the effects of too few pilots in a growing industry.
According to an article in the Washington Post, Asia alone will need over 225,000 new pilots in the next 20 years.
One of the greatest challenges in getting pilots trained is the length of the education process. It is common for pilots to spend 3-4 years learning their skills and logging the appropriate hours before earning their license. To combat the shortage some countries in Asia and the Middle East have turned to pilots from Eastern Europe, where English is rarely spoken. As English is the international language of flight, this can, and does lead to confusion in the cockpit and with the tower.
The May 2010 Air India crash highlights some of the most challenging aspects of anticipated pilot shortage. Not only was the Serbian’s grasp of English questionable, he apparently slept through more than half of the flight and was too disoriented to land properly when the time came. With a growing number of pilots needed it is likely that airlines will start to cut corners in the hiring process.
The anticipated shortage isn’t bad for everyone, though. In some Middle Eastern countries airlines have the funds to offer exceptional salaries and conditions to trained pilots. These benefits have been used to lure well-trained professionals from U.S.-based carriers. In fact, “pilot poaching” has become such an issue in some areas of the world that local governments have been stepping in, requiring pilots to spend a certain amount of time with one airline before moving on.
It will take time for Asia and the Middle East to train its own pilots, and facilities are not yet readily available, although several are in the process of being built. Furthermore, the crisis is expected to spread into other areas of the aviation field as aircraft mechanics become scarce as well. Until the infrastructure has been put into place, airlines can anticipate the shortage to become more severe.