As the aviation industry well knows, downturns have unexpected long-term consequences, beyond the immediate downsizing caused by global recession or other major shock to the system, such as 9/11.

The bumper production backlogs enjoyed by Airbus and Boeing bring with them an associated huge need for a new generation of pilots and maintainers to fly and support the global fleet, which could double in size by 2035. Barriers to entry include a hefty training bill awaiting prospective aircrew, while on departure, regulations drive the sector’s most experienced fliers from the cockpit at the increasingly sprightly age of 65.

With the buying frenzy of the last few years showing some signs of having peaked, Boeing has trimmed its 20-year pilot forecast by 2,000 positions, albeit to 635,000 recruits. But financial services firm Cowen warns of trouble on the horizon for the big three US carriers, which will see more than half of their pilots retire by 2030. A lack of replacements in part stems from a slump in demand post 9/11, and minimum hours requirements brought in to boost safety.

Can a cheaper path to the cockpit be found, without sacrificing quality or safety, or is better pay the answer? Could authorities extend the retirement limit, or allow greater use of automation? In all likelihood, aviation’s next, and already-overdue cyclical downturn might go some way to resolving any capacity concerns.

Source: Flight International