Demand for pilots takes off

Demand for pilots is heating up in the Asia-Pacific region as new aircraft are added to fleets and ageing pilots retire.

Pilot trainers and an Auckland-based placement company say Kiwi pilots have a good reputation and in the post-global financial crisis tightening cycle are picking up work around the world.

Plane makers Airbus and Boeing are planning significant production increases with deliveries forecast to go from the current 400 a year to around 2000 by 2019.

Many of these planes will be crewed by retrained pilots but a large number of new ones will be needed.

Hamilton airline flight training school CTC Wings said its research showed in the Asia Pacific region and China close to 90,000 pilots would be needed by 2023.

In Australia demand had fallen since the Qantas announcement of thousands of job cuts six months ago but in Asia, and Japan in particular, demand was strong, said CTC's chief operating officer Peter Stockwell.

Thousands of flights in Japan could be cancelled this summer as the country's rapidly ageing population leads to a nationwide shortage of airline pilots.

One budget airline, Peach Aviation, has said that more than 2000 flights between May and October may be affected by pilot shortages. Vanilla Air, another low-cost carrier, recently announced the cancellation of 154 flights this month after struggling to recruit sufficient staff to fly its planes.

Regional airlines in the United States - notoriously poor payers - were also short of staff.

Stockwell said Vietnam's aviation sector was rapidly expanding airline operations and China was a huge market.

"Part of the issue with a lot of these places is dealing with the regulators," he said.

Around the world attrition accounts for 30 per cent of demand and fleet changes and expansion the remainder, according to the CTC report.

Aviation recruitment specialist Rishworth Aviation said it was difficult to get a handle on overall demand but it was increasing.

"Post GFC [global financial crisis] we're finding it harder to get guys for a lot of our contracts. Maybe the supply globally is okay but there'll be major imbalances between where they need to be. There's growth in Asia but all the infrastructure for training is in Europe and America," said managing director Mark East.

New Zealand pilots are well regarded around the world because of their flexibility and adaptability.

New Zealand Airline Pilots Association president Wayne Renwick said in this country there didn't seem to be a shortage.

"We don't believe there is a shortage now. There may be in the future but there seems to be enough perfectly trained and qualified pilots who could step up through the system."

New international rules requiring both pilots in a cockpit to be under 65 are due to be introduced later this year although there will be exemptions in New Zealand.

Renwick said that as long as a pilot is licensed and holds a valid medical certificate human rights laws mean there can't be discrimination on age grounds.

- By Grant Bradley of the NZ Herald

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