Guy Leitch – As the global aviation industry bounces back surprisingly strongly from the Covid calamity, it was inevitable that the system would start breaking under the pressure of lost skills.
A LARGE PART OF THE SURPRISE may have been that the crisis first occurred in the lower skilled employees – the ground staff and baggage handlers. But, by all accounts, a pilot shortage is going to hit the international airlines hard.
Southern African airline CEOs say they are not yet concerned about a pilot shortage, as South Africa still has a glut of pilots from the collapse of Comair, Mango and SA Express.
What South Africa already has, is a shortage of skilled and experienced engineers and avionics technicians. The legacy of decreasing apprenticeship training is about to start biting general aviation operators. The travails suffered by SAA Technical caused a flood of early retirements and a loss of skills to the industry. The businesses that are doing well and struggling to keep up with demand are the good AMOs with an established and stable workforce.
‘figuring out what’s best’
The skills shortage has already arrived in the USA. At this year’s NBAA, a workshop was held to address the skills shortage. According to Boeing’s industry reference Pilot and Technician Outlook for 2022- 41, there is a projected global demand for 610,000 AMEs over the next 20 years, compared to a need for 602,000 new pilots, excluding business aviation.
Another theme at the NBAA workshop was how the norm of doing a university degree (often in the humanities) after matric, as opposed to pursuing a less glamorous trade, is still a stigma that is alive and well. NBAA’s director for Environmental and Technical Operations, Stewart D’Leon, offered an interesting perspective on how to attract talent without taking on the challenge of completely changing this fondly nurtured belief: “I don’t recommend mandating to someone that they need to choose between college and a trade. It really is about figuring out what’s best for the individual,” he said.
The good news is that training a workforce to attain the coveted skills that AMEs possess requires less of a financial investment for parents, or employers, compared to becoming a pilot. And as reported in this issue – TETA (Transport Education Training Authority) bursaries are available.
With an ethic hard of work and a reasonable investment, a school leaver, or an individual looking to change careers, can claim the rewards of their labour earlier on, though nothing seems to be a quick fix regarding the ongoing skills shortages.