Without action, pilot shortage is inevitable: Oliver Wyman

Michael Wette … rising demand for pilots

The Covid-19 pandemic has stalled a historical global pilot shortage but steps already need to be taken by airlines to ensure pilot supply does not fall short again, according to findings by Oliver Wyman, a global leader in management consulting.

Until 2020, securing a pipeline of new pilots has been a primary concern for airlines around the world due to rising retirements, high financial barriers to entry and rapid airline capacity growth amongst others, according to Oliver Wyman. However, with the onslaught of COVID-19, passenger airline travel grinded to a halt and corresponding demand for pilots plummeted.

In line with World Pilots’ Day, celebrated on April 26, the Oliver Wyman findings have revealed that although pilot shortage in the Middle East is not likely to emerge until the middle of the decade, it is expected to steadily grow again through to 2029. Moreover, as a traditional net importer of pilots, growth in this region may impact other regions’ supply.

“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 re-building operations in the coming years,” said Michael Wette, Head of IMEA Transportation & Services at Oliver Wyman.

“This is particularly relevant in the Middle East where newly announced regulatory measures, local availability of the vaccine, and the upcoming Expo 2020 festivities will allow economic activity to return to normality. Due to the pivotal role that air transport plays in the economy, the industry will recover and with it – the demand for pilots.”

Although Middle Eastern airlines continued to invest in local training during the downturn, the overall capacity for organic growth is limited. The region 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.  

Some steps that airlines can take in preparation for the impending pilot shortage include reducing pilot demand by rethinking crew operations, thereby reducing the total pilots required, while driving down costs in the process. Reinforcing the pipeline by continuing to invest in training programs and engaging the workforce will also be helpful in addressing the shortage, while creating job opportunities in the region, according to Oliver Wyman.