Worldwide, there is a growing pilot shortage that is expected to continue if the number of new airline pilots does not increase to match the growing demand. There are many notable examples of airlines cancelling flights due to pilot shortage. For example, India’s largest passenger airline IndiGo was reported to have cancelled 30 flights a day and grounded 10 Airbus A320-neo aircraft in year 2018 due to shortage of pilots. According to Boeing CEO, the global pilot shortage is ‘one of the biggest challenges’ facing the airline industry today.
What’s driving the global pilot shortage?
Well, there are several factors: Previously most pilots were trained in the air force and went to the airline industry upon retirement. However, the advent of remotely piloted aircraft (drones) has resulted in air forces training less pilots than they did. For those who have retired, replacements have been lesser and lesser over the years thereby exacerbating the problem.
- According to statistics, over 800,000 new pilots will be needed by year 2040.
- African countries will be the worst hit because they already have a shortage of pilots.
- Malawi has a huge shortage of flight instructors.
- A large number of airline transport pilots in Malawi are expatriates.
- An airline transport pilot can be trained in as little as 12 months.
Secondly, the birth of low-cost airlines has made flying affordable and convenient – thanks to improved economic conditions in most parts of the world. Pilot retirements are also part of the problem. Reports indicate that over 50 percent of pilots are fast approaching their retirement age and do not have younger pilots to take up their place. This has increased pressure on low-cost airlines to the end that some have found themselves employing less qualified pilots. Take a look at Portugal for example: In year 2019, an accident report involving an ATR72 aircraft indicated that the low-cost airline had gotten involved in an accident owing to lack of experience of the first officer (she only had a total time of 269 hours). This was for the most part blamed on the pressure of pilot shortage.
Another cause of pilot shortage has been the growth of business aviation. With more people now opting to purchase private jets, the already stretched industry is saddled with pilot shortages that if no tangible action is taken will take years to correct.
Solution to the global pilot shortage
A viable solution to the global pilot shortage is to start training pilots now. In the western world, suggestions have been put forward which among others aim at encouraging governments to partner with airlines and flight schools to train more pilots to fill the growing gap. In the Malawian context, the birth of Eastrise Aviation brings hope that flight training will now be available within our borders.