Sunday, May 04, 2014

Hike in pilots’ retirement age eyed: Temporary measure meant to avert industry shortage, says Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines

There is good news for airline pilots still unsure of how to spend those retirement years as the country’s air safety regulator is set to grant them a little more time.

The reason for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to potentially increase the mandated retirement age for domestic commercial pilots to 67 years old from 65 years, however, was rooted on a more serious matter given the looming shortage of experienced pilots amid rapid expansion by carriers.

The shortage was a global phenomenon, CAAP deputy director John Andrews noted, but he said the Philippines was willing to take those early steps to further reform this aspect of the aviation business.

“We are concerned now with pilots’ retirement,” Andrews said in an interview. “The commercial carrier’s age limit is 65 and we don’t have enough qualified pilots to replace them.”

“I am doing a study now, hopefully out very soon, where we will increase the retirement age to 67,” he said while adding that this also involved determining the mental and physical fitness of pilots for an additional two years. The new regulation would cover pilots of domestic flights only.

CAAP’s plan was to buy a little more time and allow domestic carriers to train pilots holding so-called multicrew pilot licenses and give them the necessary “command” experience that more senior pilots have.

Andrews noted that this would help provide them with the necessary skills to replace retiring pilots, who typically account for 5 to 10 percent of the workforce of a large legacy carrier. The global aviation sector has expanded rapidly, partly driven by the spread of the no-frills budget travel model, opening up the skies to a broader market.

Indeed, plane maker Boeing’s current market outlook from 2013 to 2032 showed that demand growth would require 498,000 new commercial pilots to fly 35,280 new airplanes over the next 20 years. It said the lion’s share of pilots, or 38 percent, was needed for Asia-Pacific alone.

Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, the country’s two largest competitors, have also announced aggressive fleet expansion plans, especially with new flights to the United States and Europe, and Andrews noted that supply would not be able to keep pace with production unless changes are made today.

A pilot shortage was unimaginable earlier in the previous century as World War II ended and many war-era pilots found ready job opportunities with the initial boom of commercial aviation. The career today remains attractive, because of the promise of high pay, estimated by reports at about $8,000 (P300,000) per month, but costs can be restrictive.

Andrews noted that basic training typically costs about P2 million to P3 million but then additional courses are required before pilots can be hired by commercial airlines. He said long-term reforms are also needed and CAAP was engaging flying schools to give more flexible tuition payment structures to address the long-term pilot supply.

“We are talking to flying schools, where you can have programs like fly now, pay later,” Andrews said. “There are already initial talks with the big banks for this.”