Soaring demand for pilots and technicians

SINGAPORE - The demand for pilots and aircraft technicians in Asia is flying high and on course to be stronger than in any other region, says US plane-maker Boeing.

Carriers in the burgeoning China market and low-cost airlines such as AirAsia, Tigerair and Jetstar will fuel much of the demand. Top-tier carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines (SIA) will also grow over the next two decades.

In a briefing in Singapore on Monday, Boeing's sales director for training and services, Mr Bob Bellitto, said the region will need 192,300 new pilots and 215,300 technicians over the next 20 years - about 40 per cent of global demand.

"There is a very real, urgent demand for competent aviation personnel globally, and the Asia-Pacific region is particularly impacted," he said. The need for manpower comes on the back of strong aircraft orders by Asian carriers, he added.

In March, Indonesian low-cost carrier Lion Air sealed a deal for 234 single- aisle Airbus jets. It was the airline's second big purchase in just over a year, taking its total outstanding orders to about 600 jets. Malaysian AirAsia has ordered close to 500 planes in the last few years.

Singapore budget carriers are also growing. Last week, Tigerair announced plans to add four new routes in China, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Jetstar Asia plans to offer 17,200 more seats on flights each month from Singapore to popular destinations in Cambodia, Indonesia and China.

Its chief executive Bara Pasupathi said the growth is from the addition of two new planes to the Singapore fleet. He said: "Since 2009, we have been acquiring aircraft at an average rate of two per year."

SIA's regional arm SilkAir has a confirmed order for 54 new aircraft which will start arriving next year.

As demand for pilots and technicians soars, the challenge is to ensure good quality training, industry experts said, citing examples of recent lapses.

In June, the authorities in the Philippines suspended two Cebu Pacific pilots who failed to abort a landing which led to their plane overshooting the runway at Davao International Airport. The pilots also failed to evacuate passengers within the required time.

To ensure pilots are cockpit-ready, the industry has been moving towards a multi-crew pilot licence programme focusing less on training in a single-pilot aircraft and more on flight simulators.

Pilot trainees are also equipped with interpersonal and communication skills to prepare them to operate in a multi- crew environment.

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