Growth across the board
The global aviation industry is experiencing rapid growth, demand for air travel is increasing, and there are signs that air travel is returning to pre-COVID levels. Despite inflation, the pandemic that has become one of the most disruptive events in the history of the aviation industry, conflicts between countries and other economic and socio-political issues, commercial air travel is steadily increasing. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 4.35 billion people are expected to travel in 2023, nearly as many as the 4.54 billion who flew in 2019. In 2023, 34.4 million flights are expected (up 24.4% from 2022, down 11.5% from 2019).
Overall, this performance shows how resilient the industry is, having recovered so quickly from a near standstill. Encouraged by the increased demand, airlines are investing in new aircraft and technology to strengthen their operations and provide a better experience for customers. However, the industry’s recovery and expansion have been accompanied by some challenges, and one of the most important issues facing the industry today is the increasing demand for aviation personnel.
What does this mean for the industry?
The average person will never see the effort and people involved in getting an airplane off the ground, getting passengers to their destination safely and efficiently, and providing positive customer service. As professionals, we know what it takes to make this happen, and we need to proactively recruit the talent that will drive the industry forward more successfully than ever before.
As commercial aircraft fleets continue to grow and air traffic increases, so does the demand from airlines and operators for highly skilled pilots, flight attendants and aircraft maintenance technicians worldwide. Boeing estimates that 790,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide by 2037, while Airbus makes a slightly more conservative but still overwhelming forecast of 450,000 new pilots by 2035.
According to CAE’s Aviation Talent Forecast 2023, demand for aviation professionals will quantitatively reach the following levels:
- 1.3M civil aviation professionals needed over the next 10 year
- 284,000 new pilots will be needed over the next 10 years, representing a 39% increase in demand for pilots from 2023 to 2032.
- 402,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians will be needed over the next 10 years, representing a 78% increase in demand for aircraft maintenance technicians between 2023 and 2032.
- 599,000 new cabin crew members will be needed in the next 10 years, representing a 45% increase in cabin crew demand between 2023 and 2032
The number of flights and the active fleet are the most important factors in the overall demand for civil aviation professionals. Proper staffing of these flights and replacement of pilots, cabin crew, and aircraft maintenance technicians who leave the workforce due to retirement and attrition are the real drivers of demand.
Does it mean that demand exceeds supply?
The significant demand for pilots across the industry is driven by a number of factors, including demographics, mandatory retirement age, early retirements due to COVID and projected growth in the aviation industry. Industry experts predict that demand for pilots will exceed supply worldwide within the next year or two and will continue to do so for the next decade. This demand for pilots is already evident in the U.S., where several regional airlines are cutting back operations and grounding aircraft because they are short of pilots.
Demand for aviation personnel is also driven by the fact that more and more skilled professionals are reaching the mandatory retirement age and ending their long careers, creating a gap that is not easy to fill. According to CAE’s Aviation Talent Forecast 2023, 38% of pilots and 34% of cabin crew in the United States (US) are now over the age of 50. Over 50% of aircraft maintenance technicians are over 40 years old. FAA statistics show that more than 45,000 pilots will need to retire in the next 10 years. This represents nearly 27% of the pilot population in the United States. The situation is similar in other parts of the world.
To prevent potential disruptions to operations in the future, it’s crucial to proactively address retirement and attrition.
What steps should be taken to ensure a secure future for industry?
Given that retirement and attrition will increase over time, there is an excellent opportunity for the industry to add new, innovative minds to its ranks and re-evaluate the way they work by using technology to improve current workflows. As members of a new generation begin their careers in aviation, they will bring a fresh perspective and will undoubtedly find ways to improve and optimize the way the industry operates. The following list of actions demonstrates that a future in aviation is possible and affordable:
1. Creating programs to support career development paths to make the industry more attractive
2. Reaching out early to potential candidates while they are in school and educating them about different roles and advancement opportunities
3. Attracting digital natives, who spend most of their time online using the latest and most interesting innovations such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will lead the way into the future.
4. Creating sources of financial support, work-study programs, sponsorship, increasing the number of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) grants, and educational and industry partnerships. Partnerships with training organizations can also reduce the stress of recruiting, training, and retaining aviation professionals, including instructors.
5. Lower the cost of entry into the aviation industry, especially for pilots. There are many people interested in becoming pilots, but it can be expensive to earn a certificate.
6. Establishing cadet programs and aviation academies around the world
It is important to note that today airlines and business aviation companies have begun partnering with training organizations (and, in some cases, acquiring or creating their own organizations) to provide employment opportunities upon graduation and offer incentives such as job security and sponsorships. Airlines have also launched outreach programs to demonstrate that aviation is an attractive career choice, to promote interest in aviation as a profession, and to support educational efforts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
With widespread fleet growth expected in the aviation industry and the demand for travel ever-increasing, along with extraordinary technological advances, now is the right time to get into aviation. To maintain this momentum, we need to take steps to ensure we address retirement waves and attrition to avoid disruptions to future operations. The talent search must be expanded by diversifying the target audience and showing young entrants that aviation is open to all who want to be part of this dynamic and evolving industry.