Can the current wave of student drop-outs prior to achieving a pilot license be solved? Mike Chase assesses in this latest JETNET >>KNOW MORE feature…
We have learned from AOPA that 80% of students drop out before earning a pilot’s license. The ‘number one’ reason is the high costs. The estimated average cost for pilot training is $200,000 over a two- to four-year period to get from a private pilot (minimum 40 hours) to commercial (250 hours) to airline transport pilot (1,500 hours, and at least 23 years old) in the US (per Wayman.net).
Other industries offer lower training costs and a more immediate financial reward than that seen in aviation. The candidate pool decreases as the qualification level and cost increases from student pilot, to private pilot, to certified flight instructor, to instrument rating pilot, to Airline Transport pilot.
General Aviation is the primary training ground for most commercial airline pilots and is defined as all aviation other than military and commercial airlines. Only after a pilot has attained all certificates (private, instrument, multi-engine, commercial) and logged a minimum 1,500 hours (at least 250 as pilot-in-command) may he/she apply for an airline transport pilot (ATP) license in a Part 121 operation.
In 2013, the FAA revised the ATP requirements to extend to co-pilots. The new requirement changed the whole paradigm to becoming an airline co-pilot. Today, unless you have 1,500 hours in your log book you cannot apply to an airline.
For most candidates these are hours flown on meager wages (if not at their own expense), typically as a certified flight instructor (CFI) to help build up their flight hours. Effectively, this has raised the bar so high to becoming an airline pilot that far fewer individuals are willing to pursue the career path today.
The hot question within the industry is whether we’re likely to see this trend reverse, and if so, when?
JETNET has learned that there are many flight schools, college programs, airlines, corporations and military/governments working feverishly to find solutions. However, the number of new pilots coming in cannot keep pace with the expected growth and planned retirements in all areas of aviation.
As illustrated in Table A in 2017 there were 435,796 active certified pilots (per FAA data), which was an increase of 0.9% (or almost 4k more pilots) compared to 2016.
Interestingly, Table A shows more than 20k (16%) more students, comparing 2017 to 2016. However, there were only 142 (0.1%) more private pilot licenses obtained comparing the two periods. Also noteworthy, the number of rotorcraft pilots decreased by 163 (1.1%) in the comparison between 2017 and 2016.
A Boeing report states that pilots and technicians are already retiring faster than they can be replaced. In 2007 the mandatory retirement age of pilots was moved from age 60 to 65. The average age of all pilots, as reported by the FAA, in 2017, was 44.9 years old. Students in 2017 averaged 32.5 years old and ATPs averaged 50.6 years old.
Nevertheless, the fact stands that 30% of the work force is at (or near) retirement age, and new-hires replenish only ~2% of the workforce annually.
Outlook for the Future
The 2018 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, a respected industry forecast of personnel demand, projects that 790k new civil aviation pilots, 754k new maintenance technicians, and 890k new cabin crew will be needed to fly and maintain the world fleet over the next 20 years.
The forecast is inclusive of both Commercial and Business Aviation, and civil helicopter industries. We have taken that 20-year forecast of personnel demand and displayed the average annual demand, by segment, in Table B. Business Aviation is estimated to need 4,800 (12.2%) of the 39,500 pilots on an annual basis.
Table C, meanwhile, shows the average annual Business Aviation personnel demand by segment and region. North America shows the largest projected demand with an average annual growth of 2,950 pilots, 2,750 technicians and 750 cabin crew.
Worldwide Fleet by Segment
As reported by JETNET (Table D), as of September 2018, there were over 111,000 aircraft and helicopters in-operation worldwide, an increase of 3,365 (3.1%) compared to September 2017.
The split between the three segments is 39% business aircraft; 29% helicopter; and 32% commercial airliners. Each aircraft and helicopter require one or more pilots.
Currently 50% of all new Airbus and Boeing aircraft are going to Asia-Pacific, putting special pressure on pilot demand in that region.
There’s also pressure in the Middle East, where the airlines are having to rely less on ex-pat pilots. Emirates Airline, for example, is parking up to 20% of its fleet due to the pilot shortage. Forty-six aircraft have flown to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, been parked and haven’t left. Emirates’ president Tim Clark revealed that his airline is 100-150 pilots short.
Among the regional airlines there is greater turnover of pilots for numerous reasons, including lower pay. Business Aviation has also been encountering difficulties in crew staffing.
Specifically, North America’s need for more pilots stems from retirement, while Asia’s is more to do with keeping up with growth. South America is a little different: The economy has not been doing well in Brazil but has shown signs of improvement recently.
Creating 39,500 pilots on an annual basis is going to need some imaginative thinking by all stakeholders. It’s the training side of the business, however, that is in fastest-growth mode – for example – at L3 Commercial Training Solutions (CTS), which plans to triple its output of trained pilots to 5,000 annually in the next five years.
The training and simulator market, while growing, is also fiercely competitive as companies vie to supply the best training solution at the best price.
A pertinent discussion regarding the impending shortage of pilots and technicians relates to the gender gap. Globally, just 5.18% of commercial pilots are women, according to the Air Line Pilots Association International trade union. In the UK the figure is lower. About 4.77% of airline pilots are women there.
Referring back to Table A, the FAA reported that 7% of all active certified pilots were women. That percentage includes all classes of pilots, private, commercial, ATP and rotorcraft. This was an increase of only 0.3% more in 2017 compared to 2016.
Indian airlines employ the highest proportion (12.4%) of female pilots, according to the latest statistics from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP). Indian companies have aggressively encouraged more women to become airline pilots in what they see as an upcoming pilot shortage.
Other countries are trying to increase these numbers as well. One European airline says it has set a target that 20% of new entrant pilots should be female by 2020.
According to GAMA, the fleet of aircraft used for training averages 48.1 years old. Half the costs of flight training is spent on aviation fuel. During the recent NBAA Annual Convention in Orlando, we attended several presentations by George Bye of Bye Aerospace, on developing the world’s first certified electric aircraft specifically aimed at being a flight trainer aircraft to help solve the issue of high flight training costs for pilots.
The Sun Flyer 2 is an entirely new category of robust electric aircraft. It is to be certified under the new FAR Part 23 regulation (effective on August 30, 2017 including for the first time electric-propulsion), powered by a Siemens electric-propulsion system, with operating costs five-times less than a Cessna 172.
The total hourly operating costs for a Cessna 172 is $88 (per Bye Aerospace), with AvGas prices ranging from $4.50 and $6.50 per gallon. Conklin & de Decker reports a higher variable cost for a Cessna 172 at $105 per hour. Regardless, the hourly operating costs for a Cessna 172 provide a stark comparison to the projections for the Sun Flyer 2 ($14).
The electric aircraft (priced at $289k), utilizing the Siemens electric-propulsion system that exhibits low noise and effectively eliminates CO2 exhaust pollutants. A full airframe ballistic recovery parachute for safety is installed as well.
The first protype for the Sun Flyer 2 completed its first flight at Centennial Airport in Denver, Colorado on April 10, 2018. FAR type certificate award is expected in 2020. This is disruptive affordability in action as the next generation two-seat all-electric trainer will help lower the high pilot training costs cited as the primary reason for 80% of student pilots dropping out before achieving a pilot license.
This two-seat aircraft is expected to change the way pilots train. If successful, this cost-efficient aircraft will enable new pilots to train without prohibitive fuel costs.