Business aviation in the Middle East is continuing its predicted trend and growing year by year, and the demand for new pilots may soon exceed supply, according to industry trade body, IATA (International Air Transport Association).
IATA predicts that over the next 10 years the aviation industry, both commercial and business, will need 17,000 new pilots per year worldwide. Currently global pilot training programmes can train only about 15,000 per year, which would leave a shortfall of over 3,000 new pilots annually. I think that is a conservative estimate and the actual numbers of new pilots required could be significantly higher. As such, commercial operators are stepping up their recruitment efforts and so should the business aviation sector.
There are no silver bullet solutions to this complex issue. This region is predominantly dependent on the global supply pool for the pilots, trained and licensed under different regulatory systems. Our attempts to develop this resource have had a modest success rate so far. As with the airlines, finding qualified pilots for the planes is a major challenge. Not only are there more manufacturers of business jets than commercial airliners but business aviation pilots are a different breed to their airline cousins. While the latter operate from behind the closed doors of the flight deck, the former are highly visible to their clients and must have a broader skill set ranging from management and leadership to customer communication skills to accompany them.
The business aviation sector will have to explore different strategies to address this challenge when you consider that 96 per cent of trainee pilots are more interested in the commercial sector. This is a major challenge in itself, and one that needs to be taken head on, if we are to assist in the continuing growth of the sector in the region. As a short-term measure, business aviation may also tap on the pilots pool who are over sixty years of age and may not be enjoying the rigours of commercial airliner flying. With proper inducement many could opt for the professional life style of business aviation.
At the other end of the age scale a more considered and long-term approach must be taken. It is unrealistic to think that business aviation companies will set up flight schools similar to its commercial counterparts. But it can support local flight schools and/ or flight clubs which train pilots in small and medium jets, perfect for business aviation. Naturally newly qualified pilots might digress or aspire to commercial aviation but at least they have an option and, at the very least, much closer support from business aviation which can provide a more accessible route to employment from which it can begin to create programmes that offer a long-term future and rewarding career.
Working with flying schools and clubs also allows business aviation to begin crafting its own curriculum. The Dubai-based Emirates Aviation College, for example, has recently launched the EASA Licensed Pilot Training Programme to address the need for commercial pilots in the region. So a similar curriculum that would prepare pilots for business aviation would help a great deal by showcasing that flying private jets offers an alternative challenge; pilots fly into smaller airports and have much more operational control over their flights. As well as this, the opportunity to fly some of the regions VVIP’s as well as humanitarian efforts for some of the harder to reach locations in the world would go some way into highlighting to potential trainee pilots the benefits and prestige of flying private jets.
Regardless of the solution, it is imperative that operators work together and one option that has been discussed is “pilot pool.” Aviation Authorities should review the possibility of private jet operators having shared licensing qualifications for pilots, for example two Middle Eastern operators who both fly the Citation Sovereign, should be able to share pilots for charter flights. Currently pilots can only fly charter flights for an operator if they have an OPC (Operator Proficiency Check) with that specific company. This proposal appears attractive at the outset but calls for detailed investigation to aspects such as how to re-orient pilots in the ‘pool’ from one set of operational requirements to another at short notice. In this regard integration of a company’s operational manual with another-whether it is feasible or desirable is a topic for in depth study by experts in the field.
In summation, MEBAA, through discussions with our members, will continue to address the issue of personnel shortage in our industry. MEBAA is currently working on quantifying personnel numbers in the business aviation sector for our databank, which remains one of our key objectives and will allow our members and any interested parties to obtain true and accurate figures for our region. Also, at events, such as the Middle East Business Aviation Conference on December 10, we will be discussing the current issues facing the business aviation market. The upcoming personnel shortage will be one of the main topics of discussion, providing the perfect platform for leading figureheads in business aviation to propose possible solutions to the impending problem.
(Ali Al Naqbi is Chairman of Middle East Business Aviation Association)