“Do you think there are enough qualified pilots?”

“Do you think there are enough qualified pilots?”

This was one of the key questions that the participants at the Annual EASA Safety Conference had to answer during an interactive poll with the audience. Together with other industry stakeholders, ECA joined the event last month in Luxembourg. Imagine my surprise, shortly after the poll, when I saw the result on the screen.

80% of the audience – all industry stakeholders and ‘insiders’ – think that there are not enough qualified pilots to meet the future demand! Have I missed something?

As the focus of this conference was on training of airline & ANSP personnel, the audience should have a good understanding of the situation in the industry. So, where does our difference in perception come from?

Well, maybe they didn’t know some facts: the average unemployment rate amongst pilots in Europe is 16,5%. In some countries it even goes beyond 20%! In particular, young people have a hard time finding a first job as a pilot. And despite this, training schools continue to churn out pilots at high speed. A shocking fact comes from the Netherlands (and some other European countries): a large percentage of licences are not renewed after the first three years. This means that young people – after investing significant sums into their initial training – do turn away from aviation and look for alternatives. I would say we could speak of a “lost generation” here!

But what is the real perspective for our young colleagues? Well, after investing roughly €70.000 to €100.000 you might have to spend another €30.000 for a type rating. Thereafter, you may find yourself applying for a high-pressure ‘job’ that is neither paid, nor provides prospects for decent employment terms and conditions. Your airline might not even really be your employer: in fact you might be asked to work as a (bogus) self-employed or be hired via a temporary agency. Needless to say, you won’t be paid when sick and you may be dismissed without even being given a proper notice.

Do we really expect young people to seriously consider taking all these financial risks and the responsibility of a job as a pilot, while the unemployment rate among pilots is skyrocketing and parts of the industry are completely dominated by “atypical” employment forms? I leave it up to you, to those, who have worked in aviation, to answer this question.

One thing is clear: today there is no pilot shortage in Europe.
by Dirk Polloczek