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Pilot shortage alive and well in Vietnam: Jetstar Pacific

A shortage of qualified pilots remains an issue for Vietnam low-cost carrier Jetstar Pacific.

Two advantages that the carrier has in its quest to fill the cockpits of its 17 Airbus A320 aircraft are its two shareholders, Vietnam Airlines and Qantas, says Jetstar Pacific chief executive Nguyen Quoc Phuong.

If necessary, Jetstar Pacific can take pilots on secondment from other Jetstar family members, or from Vietnam Airlines. Qantas, which controls the Jetstar group, owns 30% in the Vietnam low-cost carrier, while Vietnam Airlines owns 70%.

On the other hand, the quality of Jetstar Pacific's training means that other carriers, namely low-cost rival Vietjet Air, are keen to poach pilots.

Chief operating officer Leslie Stephens says that the pilot shortage "is probably the most limiting growth factory we're all going to see moving forward." The issue is by no means restricted to Vietnam or the Asia-Pacific, but a global issue for the industry.

The excecutives made the remarks during a recent media briefing at Jetstar Pacific's headquarters near Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

One problem specific to Vietnam is the lack of a pool of young pilots. The Vietnamese air force does not produce large numbers of pilots, and there is no tradition of general aviation similar to the United States, Europe, or Australia.

Stephens highlights this issue by noting that Vietnam Airlines had intended to have 80% of its pilots be Vietnamese by 2010, but in 2017 only 49% of its pilots were local.

"That's how difficult it is to get Vietnamese pilots," he says.

Nonetheless, the company is working toward developing its own talent pool, through a cadet programme that sends pilots abroad to learn piloting skills. This route, however, takes a long time to produce a first officer.

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