A recent report by Boeing predicts the global aviation sector will require 804,000 new civil aviation pilots, 769,000 new maintenance technicians, and 914,000 new cabin crew over the next 20 years.
The demand is fuelled by the growth in passenger journeys. Etihad Aviation Training managing director Captain Paolo La Cava says: “The number of passenger journeys on the world’s airlines is expected to double within 20 years, and aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing are both predicting that total aircraft numbers will also double to accommodate this growth.”
While the industry continues to grapple with the global shortage of trained pilots and other aviation professionals, demand is also growing for trained professionals in other areas.
“Notably, there is a growing demand for drone pilots, ATC professionals and aviation psychologists,” says Alpha Aviation Academy general manager Captain Nadhem AlHamad.
Emirates Airline and Group executive vice president Abdulaziz Al Ali notes: “The Middle East needs to train around 10 pilots every day as the region needs around 60,000 pilots by 2036. Beyond this, the need for new skillsets is clear to see. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cybersecurity are just a few areas where we are investing for the future.”
While the lack of talent persists, there is growing interest in aviation careers in the region, according to Al Ali. He says: “Aviation is expected to contribute around 20% of UAE’s total GDP this year and around AED324 billion (US$ 88.2bn) by 2030, and there is heightened awareness of all the possible careers within the industry – it’s not just about being pilots or cabin crew. Aviation and related careers are growing at an exponential rate and there is strong demand for training.”
Expansion of the region’s aviation sector is also drawing interest from aviation academies and training institutions, observes AlHamad.
He explains: “There is a growing influx of investors and companies interested in setting-up academies or institutions in the Middle East given the major aviation-related expansions and developments taking place in the region however, cost and availability of qualified and experienced trainers remain a challenge. We have also recently seen academies in neighbouring countries opening their doors, ultimately leading to an increased competition among aviation providers in the region.
“The differentiation between providers in the Middle East and the rest of the world include maturity – we are not as mature as our Western competitors; and flexibility – we are more open and flexible compared to the Eastern aviation training providers.” Additionally, the training provider’s branding, the ability to secure jobs for trainees and a shortage of qualified instructors are also challenges the sector faces.
While some airlines such as Air Arabia train their staff through third-party academies such as Alpha Aviation, other major airlines have invested heavily in building in-house training facilities.
At Emirates, for instance, all cadet pilots are training the Emirates Flight Training Academy, which launched in 2017. The academy has its own fleet of 27 aircraft, dedicated air traffic control tower and a runway.
The airline’s cabin crew also go through safety and emergency training, which covers aircraft equipment, fire-fighting, inflight emergencies and evacuation, and medical emergencies.
“We are also investing in areas such as digital leadership and contemporising our training offerings to give more flexibility, personalisation and customisation. The way that our people want to learn is changing,” Al Ali states.
According to La Cava, training new pilots from ‘ab initio’ stage was a growing activity of Etihad Aviation Training, which currently has over 100 cadet pilots and 22 training aircraft, including four Embraer Phenom 100 jets at its facility in Al Ain.
But by far the fastest-growing segment of the business has become retraining pilots to fly new aircraft types, particularly the Airbus A320-family of narrow body jets and the wide-bodied Boeing 787 Dreamliner, two of the most in-demand types.
La Cava says: “As airlines and private operators introduce more of these jets, demand is increasing significantly to transfer pilots from flying other aircraft types. Many operators simply don’t have the facilities or capacity to retrain the number of pilots required for these planes. But we do, and demand for our services is growing. In the first half of this year, our volumes have exceeded expectations by 30%. A key reason for our success is that our instructors are also active pilots with Etihad Airways, operating the aircraft types on which we are training other pilots.”
While low cost carriers may not be able to match the quality of in-house training offered by major airlines, they work with training academies to onboard staff and provide continuous training.
AlHamad says: “At Alpha Aviation Academy UAE we provide pilots exclusively for Air Arabia, the Middle East’s leading low cost carrier. We train our cadets via the multi-crew licence programme (MLP), which is a relatively new form of training but one that enables the cadets to be trained on an Airbus A320 specifically to Air Arabia’s requirements. This best practice ensures the cadets can be trained relatively quickly compared to traditional training methods – in under 18 months – and are fully equipped with the specific skills they require.”
To meet the growing demand for aviation professionals, airlines are increasingly tapping into the local talent pool.
Al Ali says: “We support the local communities in every destination we fly to, and more so in Dubai, which is our hub. We fully support the Dubai Government’s initiative on Emiratisation and above all, our trained, talented and committed Emiratis contribute significantly to our business every day. Our Emirati colleagues can be found in every role – whether working on the ramp, in aviation security, as pilots, cabin crew, analysts, planners and senior leaders across the organisation. We offer an extensive range of courses, educational programmes, training, executive development, leadership and talent management courses to develop our people across the board.”
Developing regional talent comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities, according to AlHamad. The benefits include maximisatig the skills, talent, creativity and competencies that local talent pool has to offer, which complements organisational goals.
“One of the key challenges is ensuring that regional talent remains regional – that is, they do not get drawn to other markets, which also have increased demand for pilots, such as Asia Pacific and North America,” AlHamad says.
Dunleavy White chief executive Rick White concurs with AlHamad, saying: “The challenges have been the breadth of experience in the region as there are only a defined number of organisations where candidates can gain experience. The benefits of recruiting local people for positions in local Middle Eastern companies is very apparent as they know, understand and are part of the local culture. The ability to speak Arabic is always a big positive for candidates. When you bring people in from overseas who may not have lived and worked in the region previously, it can be a challenge to not only settle into their new role and company but also for them and their family to adjust to the region.”
In addition to recruiting new talent, companies are also investing heavily in continued professional development.
Emirates, for example, launched LinkedIn Learning across the enterprise to complement its existing training curriculum.
Al Ali explains: “This empowers our people to learn anytime, anywhere from industry experts, while minimising cost and the time away from work. We introduced digital and mobile team effectiveness tools to connect and elevate teams across group entities.
“We offer bespoke leadership, people development and mentoring programmes based on strategic business needs. We continue to develop our leaders of today and tomorrow through multiple platforms including the Global Business Consortium, in partnership with the London Business School and the Executive Leadership Development Programme in partnership with Warwick Business School.
“We focus on offering dynamic learning assets, optimising our talent, building the right infrastructure, and aligning our investment and resources to high-impact activities that address business needs and prepares us for the future of work.”
Looking ahead, experts predict AI and virtual reality will be an integral part of the training process.
White says: “Capital expenditure for Sims for all new Airbus and Boeing aircraft [will be a big trend]. Previously, both companies produced slight upgrades on equipment however there is now a step change to the new aircraft suppliers are producing which bear little resemblance to previous variants.”
AlHamad says: “Among the chief trends and challenges that will dominate the aviation training market over the next 10 years include the training cycle between developing and maintaining qualified and experienced trainers, maintenance of cost in a manner that is still viewed as attractive by the target market, and provision of job security with a reasonable income for the trainees; there is a large number of new fields opening up in various industries offering more attractive remuneration.”
Al Ali observes: “More and more, training methodologies will become collaborative across cities and continents in real-time, and incorporate the latest innovations, including AI, virtual reality and possibly robotics. Training will become hyper personalised and customised, making for shorter, more intense training sessions. The pace of change could challenge trainers and educators, who need to keep themselves constantly updated.
“Aviation training, anywhere in the world, is generally complex and regulated, and therein lies the challenge and the opportunities.”