Middle East airlines to face pilot shortage as travel demand booms, report says

Big tourism projects and new carriers entering the market are fuelling demand for flight crew in the region

Demand for pilots will outstrip supply in most regions globally, according to a study by consultancy Oliver Wyman. Victor Besa / The National
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The global aviation sector will continue to grapple with a shortage in pilots between 2022 and 2024 as air travel demand surges — with the Middle East one of the first regions to experience the impact, according to a new report.

A regional shortage could start as early as the end of this year, a study by global consultancy Oliver Wyman found.

Unless speedy action is taken to mitigate the impact, this could reach a shortage of 3,000 pilots by 2023 and 18,000 by 2032, said the consultancy.

“We expect the Middle East to be the region affected soonest by the shortage outside of North America, driven by a projected sharp increase in air travel demand over the next few years, new players entering the market and big tourism developments happening in the region,” Andre Martins, partner and head of India, Middle East and Africa for transportation and services at Oliver Wyman, said.

The surge in demand for air travel coincides with a declining supply of pilots in the Middle East region — due to a combination of layoffs during the pandemic, a falling number of newly certified pilots and retirements.

“If demand for air travel continues to grow, airlines need to accelerate recruiting efforts from other regions where we anticipate less acute shortages, particularly Latin America and Asia Pacific, to fill gaps,” Mr Martins said.

“Failing that, we may see adjustment of schedules into and out of the region, impacting the Middle East’s carriers and airport operators.”

The global aviation industry is expected to be short of nearly 80,000 pilots by 2032, in the absence of a downturn in future demand and despite “strenuous” efforts by the sector to bolster the supply of pilots, the study said.

Boeing recently raised its 20-year global demand forecast for commercial airline pilots and other aviation workers by 3.4 per cent from 2021, as air travel recovers from the pandemic with fleet expected to double during the period.

The US plane maker now projects a need for 602,000 pilots globally to safely support the recovery in commercial air travel and staff the world fleet over the next two decades, according to its 2022 Pilot and Technician Outlook, published last month.

About 53,000 new pilots will be needed in the Middle East during the period, according to the outlook.

The region's aviation industry has been driven by airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways that are reporting recovery from the pandemic with surging demand for travel.

How Etihad trains new cabin crew amid latest recruitment drive

How Etihad trains new cabin crew amid latest recruitment drive

The global aviation industry is facing a shortage of employees, many of whom were laid off during the pandemic and have moved into other occupations or more flexible work options.

Airlines and airports are racing to source recruits to meet the rise in demand, but the labour crunch has led to disruption at airports and capacity cuts at airlines.

Emirates, the biggest operator of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s, held a recruitment roadshow for pilots in the UK earlier this month, as it increases operations in response to a resurgence in travel demand.

Etihad has said it began tapping into the pool of its former pilots last year, as it anticipated a recovery in travel demand from the pandemic.

Direct employment at airlines is expected to reach 2.7 million people this year, up 4.3 per cent from 2021, as the industry rebuilds from the significant decline in activity in 2020, aviation trade body the International Air Transport Association reported.

Updated: August 23, 2022, 8:12 AM