All Those New Planes Need Pilots

The pilot shortage could put a real limit on how fast Asian and Middle Eastern airlines can grow and absorb the airliners Boeing is creating.

In the Middle East, the airline rumor mills say new $200 million Boeing 777s are sitting idle on the ground part of the day because airlines don't have enough qualified pilots to get them airborne. In China, a startup airline canceled a large part of its schedule when it couldn't find enough pilots to fly its routes.

In Africa, national airlines are complaining that their most experienced pilots are being lured away by airlines in other parts of the world, leaving them with sparse and inexperienced crews. And the airline news Web sites are reporting some foreign carriers are offering American pilots twice their officially listed wages to join their crews.

For The Boeing Co., such news is both heartening and discouraging. Heartening because it's indicative of the fast growth of air travel and the demand for new airliners in the world's most populous regions. Discouraging because the pilot shortage could put a real limit on how fast Asian and Middle Eastern airlines can grow and absorb the airliners Boeing is creating.

For Alteon Training, a Boeing subsidiary that is one of the world's largest trainers of airline pilots and personnel, huge demand for pilots, flight crews and mechanics is creating brisk business.

At its Renton headquarters and its 21 other training sites around the globe, the company's 1,000 employees and contractors are working to satisfy the airlines' demand for personnel trained to fly and maintain the latest airliners from Boeing and its rival Airbus.

The News Tribune recently talked with the company's new president, Sherry Carbary, about the low-profile Boeing subsidiary's prospects and plans for the future:

With airline orders running at record levels, how is Alteon's business?

Now we are very busy. Our projections show that the worldwide airline fleet will more than double from 17,000 aircraft to 36,000 aircraft in the next 20 years, and all of those planes, of course, will need pilots.

With thousands of U.S. pilots laid off after 9-11, is there still an adequate supply in the U.S.?

In the United States, we still have an adequate supply of commercial pilots. But in the developing world, there is a tremendous need for new pilots.

How is Alteon working to help fill the demand?

We're starting a beta test program late this year in Australia to train airline pilots in a shorter time. We're starting with 12 students. Ordinarily it takes about three years of instruction and experience to train a nonpilot to air transport standards. In our beta program we plan to train new airline pilots in about 15 months using simulators and new instructional methods. Simulator training is so realistic now that we can accomplish much more training than we could flying real aircraft. And we can simulate emergencies that we could never do in a plane. At the end of the program, they'll be qualified to serve as co-pilots - first officers - in airline jobs.

You've been in charge at Alteon for a little over a month now, what's your initial impression about the business you now command?

I've been particularly impressed by the quality of the people, of the team, working at Alteon. They are people who are passionate about flying. It's in their blood. I was in Dallas a week or so ago, and I met one of our instructors who is 89 years old. He started flying in a Taylor Cub in 1938. He is among the most-requested instructors in our system because of his knowledge and his devotion to the art of flying. And I'm especially pleased that at Alteon we're already a true global company. We've already developed a global network of training centers. We have facilities in 11 countries and 22 different cities. In the past, pilots had to come to Seattle to be trained. Now they can get their training in a center nearer their home base. It saves airlines travel time and money, both of which are big concerns these days.

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