April 26, 2021 aviation

Middle East carriers to face post-pandemic pilot shortage, consultancy says


Middle East airlines will face an 'inevitable' shortage of pilots in the post-pandemic travel era if they do not start taking action now, according to a new report.

Though the pilot shortage in the region is not likely to emerge until 2024, it is expected to steadily grow again through to 2029, management consultancy Oliver Wyman said in a report. As a net importer of pilots, growth in this region may also affect supply in other regions, it said.

'While airlines are understandably focused on addressing the immediate impacts of the global pandemic, preparing for the impending pilot shortage will be essential in re-growing and rebuilding operations in the coming years,” Michael Wette, head of India, Middle East and Africa transportation and services at Oliver Wyman, said. 'Due to the pivotal role that air transport plays in the economy, the industry will recover – and with it the demand for pilots.'

In the long term, the Middle East will need about 58,000 pilots, 59,000 technicians and 106,000 crew members by 2039, according to Boeing's Commercial Market Outlook for the region.

Prior to the pandemic, airlines around the world were competing to secure new pilots as they expanded capacity to meet an uptick in demand. However, the Covid-19 crisis stalled the global pilot shortage as travel demand came to a near-standstill, forcing airlines to ground aircraft, reduce capacity and cut jobs.

Although Middle Eastern airlines continued to invest in local training during the pandemic-induced downturn, the overall capacity for organic growth is limited as the region hires most of its pilots from abroad, the consultancy said.

The Middle East also suffers from an ageing workforce with 20 per cent of pilots older than 55 years, which will drive further retirements in the coming years, it said.

The recovery of the global aviation industry will not be uniform across regions and the severity of the global pilot shortage will therefore vary.

North American, Asia Pacific and the Middle East are likely to see the largest pilot shortages while Europe, Africa, and Latin America remain closer to equilibrium, the report's findings showed.

Globally, a pilot shortage will emerge in some regions no later than 2023 and most probably before, the consultancy said. However, with a more rapid recovery and greater supply shocks, the shortage could be felt as early as this year.

In its most likely scenario, there will be a global gap of 34,000 pilots by 2025, according to Oliver Wyman's forecasts.

'Eventually, the impact of furloughs, retirements and defections will create very real challenges for even some of the biggest carriers,' it said.

Airlines who still have pilots on their payroll but on voluntary company leave as reduced schedules remain in place will have more flexibility once the industry begins to recover.

A number of steps can be taken by airlines to limit an impending shortage, the consultancy said.

These include reducing pilot demand by rethinking crew operations and improving crew productivity, thereby reducing the number of pilots required, while driving down costs in the process.

Carriers should also continue to invest in training programmes and pilot recruitment.

Airlines should recognise the likelihood of increased competition, particularly for furloughed pilots, and actively engage their workforce to improve retention.

'How quickly airlines can regrow their operation will be guided by how quickly they can regrow their pilot ranks,' the consultancy said. 'Those that take action now increase the agility of the airline to capture demand as it recovers.'

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