Dec. 4, 2020

Despite pandemic-driven shocks to the aviation labor market, the business aviation industry still faces long-term pilot shortage issues, said panelists for the NBAA GO Virtual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (VBACE) Thought Leadership Session, “Crew Management in the New Reality,” sponsored by CAE.

“There’s little evidence to show that the fundamentals of the pilot supply issue have shifted radically,” said Keith Butler, managing director of CAE Parc Aviation. “While immediate pressures may have changed, underlying pain points haven’t disappeared.”

The discussion centered around a recent CAE study that determined more than 45,000 business aircraft pilots will be needed by 2029 – 41,000 just to offset retirements and attrition, with growth required to crew a projected 3,600 additional active aircraft.

Panelists noted that a key reason the outlook for a pilot shortage remains unchanged, despite a swollen labor pool due to large numbers of virus-related layoffs and furloughs, is that an atypically high number of pilots are leaving the cockpit altogether.

Through planned retirements, early retirements and individuals choosing a different career path, 27,500 pilots left aviation in 2020 – nearly three times the numbers seen in a typical year, according to Butler.

With another 12,000 projected to leave next year, these unplanned departures could drive a shortage sooner than most people think, said Simon Azar, head of strategy and marketing for civil aviation with CAE. However, he also noted that business aviation has an opportunity to use the current flying environment to address “severe challenges” related to long-term staffing.

“The industry has unfortunately slowed down tremendously, but that also gives it a shot at catching up to the shortage we have and addressing it to a certain extent,” said Azar.

The uneven pace of recovery between business aviation and other segments of the industry presents short-term opportunities to find talented professionals, but Butler reiterated that meeting long-term demand will still require finding and retaining new talent.

“Many operators are in a fight for survival,” he said. “However, it’s important for all of us to look past short-term issues and plan for the future.”

Review NBAA’s workforce resources.