Perusing Facebook posts recently, an aspiring professional pilot reached out to his fellow aviators for encouragement and advice. Young Stu, aiming for an airline career, posted a simple query: “Hey, everyone, I’m planning on starting flight training soon and have been researching sources for financial aid. I am 28 years old and already have my BA degree. The only source that I have found that I currently qualify for is from the AOPA.”
As might be expected, another armchair social media “expert” chimed in with a doom-and-gloom scenario piercing the high aspirations of Stu. Citing recent layoffs of high-time pilots at major airlines, Mister S. told him he might want to reconsider: “Just sayin...the world has turned again…they might not be coming back for quite some time.”
“Career Pilot: Silver Lining” (January/February 2021 Flight Training) looked at future pilot hiring trends, featuring the best thinking of one of aviation’s foremost prognosticators, Kit Darby. The conclusion: Hiring will come back strong in time. Since that article, a renowned company has come forward with yet another forecast that should brighten the day of any future aviation professional. So, for Stu’s sake and for all of those still wondering if enrolling in a professional pilot program was not so smart in view of the state of the COVID world, read on.
The initials “CAE” (formerly Canadian Aviation Electronics) conjure up visions of long and grueling sessions in a magnificent, mega-million-dollar, Level D simulator. Walk through American Airlines Flight Academy in Fort Worth or JetBlue University in Orlando and you will see rows of CAE simulators rocking to and fro. CAE not only builds simulators but also trains pilots. CAE is JetBlue’s training partner in JetBlue’s Gateway Program in Arizona.
Admittedly, CAE has a vested financial interest in the health of the aviation industry. More new pilots into the system means more training and a need for training devices. But CAE’s 2020-2029 CAE Pilot Demand Outlook offers fleet operators key insights on the future need for professional pilots in both commercial and business aviation, building on the markets’ key drivers, variables, and trends.
“While the demand for pilots has decreased significantly during 2020, CAE’s analysis shows that the active pilot population is expected to return to 2019 levels in 2022,” the report explains. Travel restrictions, health concerns, and a decline in demand related to the COVID-19 pandemic caused airline furloughs and layoffs as well as drastic drops in business aviation activity, according to the report. As air travel recovers progressively, retirement and attrition are expected to continue to drive demand for pilots, resulting in a short-term need for an estimated 27,000 new professional pilots in late 2021. The civil aviation industry is expected to require more than 260,000 new pilots over the next 10 years.
“The fundamental factors influencing pilot demand prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic remain unchanged,” it states. “In recent years, the significant growth in passenger air traffic translated into record demand for professional pilots worldwide. Age-based retirement combined with fleet growth were and remain the main drivers of pilot demand.”
All this brings to mind a favorite line from a hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. When asked why he was successful as a hockey player, he said, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” For aviation dreamers’ longing for a flying career, now is the time to build those important credentials and experience to be ready for the puck when it arrives.