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A shift away from the pay-to-fly scheme and back towards the model of carriers paying for training is vital to resolving recruitment issues, says AeroProfessional director Sam Sprules
It’s time to address the elephant in the room. We’ve got a pilot skills shortage on our hands, and it isn’t going anywhere. In fact, if it’s not addressed now, it will only get progressively worse.
For seasoned aviation enthusiasts, whether you work in an airline, an airport, or spot planes from the viewing window, this is not new information.
We’ve long heard about the skills shortage. We know that the cost of training is a barrier to entry for many aspiring pilots. We’re aware that there are many more qualified but out-of-work pilots who haven’t clocked up the necessary hours. It’s also no secret that airline-funded training is a thing of the past, and the pay-to-fly scheme has become more prevalent.
However, despite this being common knowledge in the industry, little seems to be done about it. Instead, it appears that the aviation world is locked in a game of cards, with new talent anxiously waiting for the next move before dealing themselves in.
As aviation HR and recruitment specialists, AeroProfessional sees the issue from both sides. Aspiring pilots feel marooned, having spent vast sums funding their dream career, only to find the end goal, a job, notably absent. There is an undeniable catch-22, where a pilot needs to clock up a certain number of flight hours before getting a job with an airline, but without said job they can’t clock up the hours.
For airlines, stringent regulations and a lack of suitably qualified and experienced candidates has left them with something of a recruitment headache that will soon turn into a migraine. Airline HR departments are inundated with CVs, most of which are from candidates unsuitable for the job. However, the answer to this conundrum lies with airlines themselves.
AeroProfessional recently wrote a whitepaper – Grounded before take-off – which explored what could be done to address the pilot skills shortage. Research for the whitepaper uncovered the reasons behind the shortage from the perspective of a pilot.
The three main points cited were: the cost of training; the type rating requirements and their respective fees; and the pay and conditions. So, as you can see, it largely boils down to monetary issues. Put simply, being a pilot isn’t the dream job it once was, and the report shows that the investment currently outweighs the benefits.
The whitepaper cites a number of solutions, many of which would serve as short-term plasters, such as staggering the retirement age. There’s only so long you can keep a baby-boomer pilot in the cockpit, and eventually new recruits would need to come in and fill the deficit.
It also considered Multi-crew Pilot Licenses (MPLs). Approved by ICAO in 2006, MPLs would help fill the candidate pipeline by enabling airline first officers to co-pilot with 240h of training via ground schools or simulators. This would help alleviate much of the potential burden on airlines by enabling the pilot to contribute to commercial activity from the earliest possible stage.
However, the suggestion likely to make most impact was reintroducing airline-funded training.
Once the norm, airline-funded training disappeared and was quickly replaced by pay-to-fly. But the new model isn’t working in attracting sufficient levels of talent, and in fact only applies to those who can afford to train rather than possess and display the required skills for the job. For a steady inflow of quality pilots, we need to revert back to the way it was.
While many airlines may not appreciate the suggestion, in reality, they stand to gain the most from relieving the skills shortage. Put simply, planes that don’t have pilots to fly them must be grounded. According to Airbus, the cost of grounding an A380 for a day would be up to £775,000 ($963,000).
In the US, fines equivalent to £20,842 per passenger are levied if a scheduled flight is left on the tarmac for four hours or more. In the EU, passengers delayed for over three hours become eligible for compensation of approximately £500 each. In total, flight delays and groundings cost the industry around £17 billion per year.
Compare this with funding the training of a pilot, and the maths makes sense. Airlines stand to gain much more from training and retaining a pilot, than waiting for the issue to resolve itself or go away. Quite simply, it won’t.