The unique dilemma of pilot shortages in business aviation

13-11-2012 — / — Once the preserve of a very select few, business jetliners are proving increasingly sought after as global economic integration carries on unimpeded. Indeed, central to the global pilot shortage are very real concerns over the training deficiencies in business aviation. While only a mere four percent of trainee pilots opt to pursue a career in the sector, the demand for business jets is expected to grow by 10 percent year-on-year. Abating this shortfall will require solutions to address the supply of qualified pilots in the industry. However, the experts at are quick to assert this measure is not positively straightforward, as business jet pilots embody an array of skills independent from their airline counterparts.

In its latest annual forecast, IATA predicts an aggregate need for 17,000 pilots every year for the next ten years. In addition, over the course of the next 20 years North America is expected to receive 9,500 business jet delivers, with 3,920 to Europe and 2,420 reaching China alone. Fleet numbers in China are modest at a little over 200, but the current backlog of orders mandate a need for 500 to 1,000 additional pilots. This comes at a time when the output for pilot training institutions worldwide sustains a shortfall of around 3,000 pilots annually.

‘Business jets are no longer an exclusive luxury item. The accelerating demand for their use in charter, tourism and medical services is the result of the ability to fly to destinations not served by regular scheduled operators. However, it is on this basis that envisions the difficulties faced by business jet pilots. While their airline equivalents have a standardised roster, prospects of career progression and a regular income, such benefits are not readily available to pilots working in the private aviation sector. Indeed, it is often the case that business jets operate for very small companies affording fewer opportunities for pilot advancement,’ comments the CEO of, Skaiste Knyzaite.

Difficulties in obtaining the qualified pilots are highlighted not only by the wider variation in aircraft types compared to commercial aviation, but also by the need for an ancillary set of skills. Customer communication and cross-cultural management skills are highly valued in business aviation where pilots are directly visible to their clients and are accorded with less organisational oversight. Establishing a strong relationship with clients in determining their needs and preferences is vital. In addition, pilots are often required to display initiative in non-occupational circumstances. For instance, a flight to a remote airfield or developing country may necessitate the direct payment for fuel, catering and other services by the pilot. Facilitating a smooth transaction that guarantees value for the company requires an array of managerial, cultural and business skills on behalf of the pilot.

‘Business aviation affords its own unique opportunities, be it to assist in humanitarian missions at outreach destinations or to fly the world’s VIPs from point A to point B at relatively short notice. However, the industry continues to be a less desirable avenue for pilots owing to less stable conditions of employment. Moreover, it is unlikely that business aviation operators will establish direct-entry flight schools like those available to commercial airlines. With the growth in demand for business jets that we are currently seeing, it would appear to be a patent issue for companies in the industry. Thankfully however, the growth in flight crew leasing agencies offers solutions to this predicament. Several of these agencies operate to provide high calibre pilots for both short and long term contractual arrangements. Indeed, the stringent screening process employed by a number of these companies ensures not only a fully capable pilot, but one that possesses an array of supplementary skills desired by the client,’ asserts Skaiste Knyzaite, CEO of



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