Saturday, February 17, 2018

Pilot shortage puts low-cost carriers in a bind

Concern is growing over a looming pilot shortage, amid a sharp increase in the number of routes and flights with the emergence of low-cost carriers. Pilots — who ensure the safety of air travel — require extensive training, and many are scheduled to retire around 2030. The government and airline companies are accelerating efforts to develop countermeasures.

Large number of cancellations

Air Do, a Sapporo-based airline, has canceled a total of 26 flights for its Haneda-Shin Chitose route this month. The airline could not maintain its original flight schedule following the retirement of two pilots last year. It also canceled 34 flights last November.

Despite all-out efforts to secure pilots, Air Do faces a severe personnel shortage. “We are short of pilots. Both time and money are required to train them,” an airline official said. The airline will end operations for its Shin Chitose-Okayama route in late March.

Two LCCs — Peach Aviation and Vanilla Air — were forced to cancel a large number of flights in 2014 due to pilots taking sick leave and retiring.

An airline official based in western Japan said: “We are all on the edge of a serious shortage. The competition to acquire pilots has intensified with the emergence of LCCs.” Regional airlines and LCCs, which cannot afford to train pilots on their own, are fretting over whether they can secure personnel.

2030 problem

Behind the shortage of pilots are also changes in the aviation industry. Airlines have adopted smaller aircraft to reduce vacancy rates while competing to increase the number of flights and routes, leading to a need for more pilots.

Concerns have mounted over the so-called “2030 problem,” as a large number of pilots will begin retiring around that year. According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, about 6,400 pilots are employed by domestic airlines. More than half are experienced pilots aged 45 or older, who were hired during the bubble economy. Pilot recruitment fell after the collapse of the bubble economy, causing an imbalance in the age composition of pilots.

The transport ministry anticipates that in order to meet demand for pilots, the recruitment target for 2030 must be raised by about 430, an increase of 40 percent above the current level.

Public-private tie-up

Prospective pilots must undergo in-house training at airlines or receive training at organizations under the jurisdiction of the transport ministry, such as the Civil Aviation College. Private universities also offer pilot training courses.

Trainees at airlines can receive a salary, but such programs are highly competitive, with only one in several hundred applicants earning acceptance. Applicants to the Civil Aviation College, whose graduates enjoy high employment rates at major airlines, also face steep odds.

Private universities with pilot training courses have potential to grow. However, high tuition fees totaling ¥10 million to ¥20 million for four years of studies are a hurdle for many aspirants. Graduates also face lower employment rates at airlines compared to those trained at the Civil Aviation College.

The transport ministry has taken such measures as promoting the employment of retired Self-Defense Forces pilots at private companies and conditionally raising pilots’ mandatory retirement age from before 65 to before 68. However, strengthened training regimes are also necessary for any far-reaching solution.

The ministry will increase enrollment at the Civil Aviation College from 72 to 108 from fiscal 2018. Six entities, including universities with pilot training courses, will launch an interest-free student loan system during the 2018 academic year. The system is aimed at alleviating enrollees’ financial burden, thus increasing opportunities for students to become pilots. The Civil Aviation College supports students through its own scholarship system.

Aviation analyst Hiroyuki Kobayashi, a former Japan Airlines pilot, said: “In addition to increasing the number of pilots, it is also important to ensure their quality. Airlines and universities must closely collaborate on a regular basis by sharing information on training, among other means.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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