Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/XPRESS

Abu Dhabi: The demand for pilots in the Middle East is soaring after estimates showed that 40,000 will be needed over the next 20 years, mainly because of recent orders of over 500 aircrafts by some of the leading airlines in the region.

Abdullah Al Hammadi, the manager for the Pilot and National Cadet Pilot Programme at Emirates Airlines, said earlier forecasts of the shortage had come two years ago but figures are continuing to increase.

“They rang the bell a long time back but no one was listening because we could not see [the shortage] but now we can see it in China,” Al Hammadi said. “The shortage has already come to life in China where they started grounding aircraft because they don’t have pilots... and now we can feel the shortage coming to us.”

He added: “Twenty or 30 years back we had a lot of pilots from the military who moved into [commercial] aviation, but now we don’t find those pilots so that’s another worry. Who will fill up that gap?”

500,000 pilots needed

Al Hammadi said pilot training globally has not significantly improved over the past 60 years to cope with technological changes in aircrafts. The result is having to invest in training — a process that typically takes about four years before pilots can fly the likes of a Boeing 777.

He suggested changes in the current pilot-training curriculum so pilots can fly larger planes directly without having to go through the system of earning hours.

Discussing Emirates’ strategy to overcome the shortage, Al Hammadi said they will open a flight academy for pilots in 2015. The academy will be able to take up to 600 pilots and will be located in Dubai.

With the growth in the aviation sector in the region, he forecast that the shortage will only grow over the next few years.

Other airlines shared a similar view, citing a global demand for pilots.

A statement by Air Arabia said: “The Middle East region is leading the world in terms of new aircraft orders and as a result, more pilots will be in need. At Air Arabia, we have taken necessary measures to serve our long-term need for pilots and will be recruiting more pilots as we receive more aircraft in the years to come.”

Air Arabia has already invested in establishing a flight academy, which is up and running in Sharjah.

“This step comes in place to cater to the increasing demand for pilots,” the statement said. “In addition, such step will create more job opportunities for the local talents available in the UAE.”

In conferences held during the Dubai airshow last week, experts from the aviation industry warned of the shortage, saying that the Middle East is down by 65 per cent compared to the demand for pilots regionally.

However, the Middle East is not alone in this hurdle. Boeing reported that there will be a need for almost 500,000 pilots globally over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, experts cited 14,000 pilots as the biggest number ever recruited into the industry on an annual basis.

Boeing’s Current Market Outlook 2013–2032 report described the demand for personnel to fly and maintain airplanes as ‘unprecedented’.

“Growth of Middle Eastern aviation outpaced the global average and will continue to do so, supported by a variety of growth strategies,” the report said.