Boeing Cutting Pilot Training Time Due to Shortages

Boeing's Alteon is testing a program that can cut training time in half. Students will spend much more time in ground-based simulators and far less time actually flying a plane - and that has critics worried.


In Africa, poachers are after a new kind of game - commercial jetliner pilots.

It is not unheard of for the captain of an African carrier to shut down the engines of his plane after a flight and literally walk off the job for a better-paying one with another airline in Asia or the Middle East.

In parts of Asia, poachers have disrupted air travel. Philippine Airlines reportedly lost 75 pilots to other airlines over the past three years. China is snatching pilots from Brazil and just about anyplace else they can be found.

India may be even hungrier for pilots than China. The government there finally drew up a code of conduct that requires pilots to give adequate notice before leaving for another airline.

As The Boeing Co. and Airbus sell more planes than ever, many of those planes are headed to parts of the world where airlines are desperate for pilots.

"They are begging for pilots," said Sherry Carbary, president of Alteon, Boeing's commercial jetliner training arm.

With such demand, Alteon is testing a program that can cut training time in half. Although one of the world's foremost aviation bodies established the framework for the program, it is not without controversy. Students will spend much more time in ground-based simulators and far less time actually flying a plane - and that has critics worried.

Alteon, which stresses that safety won't be compromised, has some rather startling data to show just how bad the pilot shortage is.

With the world's jetliner fleet expected to double over the next 20 years, Alteon estimates that more than 17,000 new pilots will be needed each year just for the new planes that will be delivered from 2006 to 2025. Even more will be needed to fill the seats of retiring pilots.

According to Alteon's forecast:

India has fewer than 3,000 pilots today, but will need more than 12,000 by 2025.

China will need an average of 2,162 new pilots a year, or 43,240 by 2025.

Central America and South America will need 1,344 new pilots a year. South America has fewer than 10,000 commercial jetliner pilots today. It will need nearly 27,000 by 2025.

Europe will need an average of 3,747 new pilots a year.

The Middle East and Africa will need an average of 1,205 pilots a year.

No region of the world will need more pilots than North America over the next 20 years, according to Boeing. Canada and the United States have about 64,000 jetliner pilots today, but will need more than 128,000 by 2025.

But there is no shortage of pilots in the U.S. to fly commercial jetliners. In fact, there is a pilot surplus. U.S. airlines laid off more than 10,000 pilots after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Many remain out of work, though some are taking jobs in Asia and the Middle East, where the shortage of pilots is most severe.

That could change, however. U.S. airlines are starting to order new planes again, and both Boeing and Airbus forecast the North American market will be bigger than even China or India over the next two decades.

From Cessnas to simulators

Training pilots to fly commercial jetliners is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. China, India and many other countries that have a lot of new planes coming from Boeing and Airbus, as well as from the manufacturers of smaller regional jets, are not able to train enough pilots at home.

Boeing's Alteon has nearly two dozen training centers around the world. CAE of Canada, which is used by Airbus, is another major player.

But it can take as long as three years to train someone who has never flown any kind of plane to fly commercial jets as first officer. So the industry is closely watching what is happening at Alteon's flight training school in Brisbane, Australia.

About a month ago, six cadets from China started training that will land them in the right seat of a commercial jetliner in about half the time it takes today to be trained as a first officer.

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