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Aviation commentators are warning of a worsening skills shortage which could threaten the industry’s bounceback from the pandemic. This is particularly acute for pilots, but covers all workers from cabin crew to ground staff. Artemis Aerospace explores how training is being affected.

Last year, along with many other industry commentators, we sounded a warning about the need to address the skills shortage in the aviation sector, and discussed how to build momentum to overcome it and highlight the appeal of careers in the industry. If we fast forward a year, has this changed?

Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook 2023-2042 states that ‘over the next twenty years, 649,000 new pilots, 690,000 new maintenance technicians and 938,000 new cabin crew members will be needed to maintain the global commercial fleet.’

A global skills survey from IATA in 2022 found that the percentage of pilots in place to meet immediate needs was 72%, maintenance and technical staff was 70%, and cabin crew only 63%. In the US, there are 10% fewer fully trained air traffic controllers than there were ten years ago, 12,000 fewer mechanics, and nearly 15,000 pilots are due to retire within five years. In the UK, the number of pilots who retired during the pandemic is reputed to be at least twice the usual levels.

There are a multitude of different reasons for this alarming shortfall in personnel, one of the most important ones being issues surrounding training. It’s critical for the industry that more training places are provided, and more applicants encouraged to take them up.

Inevitably, for jobs on which people’s lives depend, training is thorough and demanding. On graduating from a UK pilot training school, prospective pilots will have gained a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and an Instrument Rating (IR) which combine to make a ‘frozen ATPL’. This opens doors to jobs as a first officer or co-pilot. In order to ‘unfreeze’ the APTL, 1,500 flying hours are required before a trainee can advance to the rank of captain, as well as a practical skills test, and exams in subjects such as radio navigation. Whichever training route is taken, courses are completely self-funded and extremely expensive – between £70K and £120K – which doesn’t encourage a large or diverse entry into the system.

Prior to 2001, flight training sponsorship by an airline was one way in which trainees could subsidise their courses. However, a combination of the effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the financial crisis of 2008 meant numerous smaller airlines went into liquidation and this was largely discontinued. Sponsorship was being utilised again by some airlines prior to the pandemic, but then COVID arrived, the skies shut down, a number of flight training schools closed permanently, and many pilots were made redundant and never returned to the workforce, which also meant a diminishing pool of people to train new pilots.

However, some airlines are seeking solutions through new training opportunities. In July, British Airways announced that it is investing millions in a new pilot cadet programme, the Speedbird Pilot Academy, which will fund the training of 60 future pilots. It’s hoped that the Academy will enable people, for whom the training cost would have otherwise been prohibitive, to apply. Aer Lingus has just announced it is seeking 90 aspiring pilots for its relaunched pilot training programme over the next five years, in collaboration with a Spanish flight training school.

Airbus, the multinational aerospace corporation, has begun to tackle the problem of the lack of aircraft technicians through its programme to provide training academies with access to state-of-the-art support. It has rolled out its Airbus Competence Training (ACT) suites at the locations of airline customers worldwide, using virtual and interactive tools to ensure that technicians have full training on Airbus aircraft.

Another major headache for airlines is cancelled flights due to a global shortage of qualified cabin crew. Training for this type of work is also exacting and some airlines are resorting to generous sign-on bonuses. However, a backlog in security clearances for applicants has caused further issues.

To complete training, pilots spend many hours in a flight simulator, and need regular re-tests to keep their licences. The multi-faceted job of cabin crew also involves time in a simulator to cover situations such as emergency evacuation, fire and smoke training and secure cockpit procedures. The gridlock as trainees struggle to book time on a simulator has the potential to set back any initiatives to reduce the skills shortfall and, if simulators (which run almost constantly) break down, then queues get even longer.

At Artemis, our simulator support service is ready to spring into action twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, preventing disruption to training schedules by providing detailed hardware support and fault prevention solutions. We can also source and supply parts for simulators to ensure they’re identical to a specific aircraft for a trainee. This guarantees seamless transition to the air when they’re ready, a service which will be crucial to the mission of ramping up trainee numbers to meet the requirements of post-pandemic air travel.