From the viral stories about disasters in airline customer relations, it can be hard to find good news about the industry. There has been some, like the coming return of supersonic flights that could cut travel time by half, or the development of comfortable middle seats.
Now we have news out of this week's Paris Air Show that is neither about PR disasters, mistreatment of customers, or good. Instead, a study from CAE, a Canadian firm that trains airline personnel around the world, says the industry faces an oncoming pilot shortage. The only people who are capable of controlling a plane to your destination may not be available when you need them.
The problem is the long-range -- 10 year -- lack of a sufficient development funnel. There aren't enough people getting trained now to replace all the pilots who will be retiring. Specifically, CAE estimates that the industry will need 255,000 airline pilots, or 70 new pilots a day and will also need to turn 180,000 first officers into captains.
Increased demand will drive the need. The report estimates that the number of annual passenger trips will grow from the current 3.2 billion to 4.8 billion. The number of commercial aircraft will rise from 25,000 today to 37,000 in the next decade. As planes become larger and run longer routes, there's a need for additional relief pilots. And given a mandatory retirement age of 65, about 105,000 pilots will have retired over the next ten years (with North America particularly hard hit because the last big recruitment binge here ended in the 1990s).
Pilots have come from three traditional sources, according to CAE: universities, military, and business aviation; regional flight clubs and schools; and airline-focused training academies. But, the number of potential pilots coming from the first two categories declined by 10 percent over the last four years. Then there's a much higher attenuation, with few people moving into pilot positions.
Granted, CAE is in the business of training people, including pilots, for the airlines, so they do have an interest in stating the problem and suggesting a particular solution. But the numbers do suggest a real looming problem.
There may be additional indirect issues for those of us in the passenger cabins. The airlines will have to convince people to become pilots, which could mean more pressure on pay levels and benefits, eventually translating into more expensive tickets.
The good news is that if you've wanted a change in careers, you may have an option you'd never before considered. Clear sailing, my friends.