TOM SPEARS - Ottawa Citizen
Canada faces a shortage of 3,000 pilots and 55,000 workers overall in the aviation industry by 2025 — caused by retirements, industry growth and barriers to recruiting new workers.
The labour shortage is so severe that a national strategy is in the works to address it.
But there are many problems, industry and Transport Canada officials heard at a forum Tuesday in Ottawa. Flight school costs at least $75,000 to reach an employable level. These schools may require students to live long distances from home.
Women and Indigenous people are under-represented at all levels. And younger pilots have to “pay their dues” at low-paying jobs for rural and northern airlines until they can move on to bigger aircraft.
“We’re flying more and more and we will continue to fly more and more,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the group Tuesday.
“We cannot afford to have labour shortages in the aviation industry.”
The missing workers span a wide range of careers — as pilots but also in aircraft manufacturing and maintenance. The sector today employs 154,000.
“If we don’t have the workers, the jobs are going offshore and we won’t get them back,” Robert Donald warned the forum. He is the executive director of the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace, a research organization supported by the industry.
“Air travel — it’s going to double. And you need people to fly those planes and to maintain those planes,” said Theresa Davis-Woodhouse, CCAA’s director of project management.
By 2025 Canada will need 7,300 new pilots, she said. But there are fewer than 1,200 new pilots graduating each year, and nearly half of these are foreign students. As well, only 70 per cent of graduating pilots go on to work in the industry.
That will create a “critical shortage” of 3,000 pilots by 2025, she said. And if new rules that limit flying hours to reduce pilots’ fatigue are passed, the shortage will be higher.
“There’s (also) aircraft maintenance technicians, there’s avionics technicians, composite fabricators, there’s engineers” who are in short supply, she said.
“Welders, painters — we have 30 trades,” Donald added. “It’s in making the airplanes, fixing the airplanes and flying the airplanes. And there is explosive growth in India and Asia, as their middle class starts to fly. That is creating a global demand for skilled workers,” and foreign airlines are recruiting workers from Canada. This makes it harder for Canadian companies to find workers.
A big issue is that young people leaving school aren’t aware of the career opportunities.
“Not enough of them know,” Davis-Woodhouse said. There are some high school programs in aviation maintenance “but generally they are not aware of the career path they could take.
“Guidance counsellors don’t promote it enough.”
“Industry needs to do more to get the message out that there are high-skill, exciting, high-paying jobs available immediately for graduates” in aviation fields, Donald said.
A Transport Canada discussion paper distributed at the forum says that “there is heightened competition with other sectors that offer higher wages, as well as a lack of visibility for careers in the aviation industry due to limited post-secondary institutions offering aviation programs.
“There has also been a decreased interest in piloting as a career path, where the costs and time necessary for training can be prohibitive. Government student loans are not available for required flight training hours, resulting in significant financial burden to obtain a license.”
A second paper adds that in the past it used to take 10 years for a pilot to find a job on a national airline.
“While the current labour shortage has dramatically reduced that time, the path to getting to a national airline remains uncertain and this is a barrier for many considering aviation as a career choice.”
It adds: “The pilot shortage is even more acute across the Middle East and Asia, resulting in airlines from these regions offering higher levels of compensation to attract crews. Average wages for pilots of medium sized airliners in Asia and the Middle East are 12 and 14 per cent higher respectively than wages in the western hemisphere, as well as a greater possibility for job advancement.”
Finally there’s the issue of a schedule that takes pilots away from home for overnights and weekends. The paper notes that “the willingness of prospective pilots to embrace this lifestyle may be diminishing.”