Willem-Jan Derks profiles aviation training in Latin America.

Latin America, with its 590 million inhabitants, has been an increasingly important market for over a decade now and seems to be continuing that trend. It was one of the few regions of the world that continued to show growth during the past years of crisis, and the airline industry is one of the clearest indicators of this.

Airline Industry

According to data available from the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) their associated airlines increased passenger numbers from 140 million in 2007 to 388 million in 2012 with the obvious increase in employees (84,000 to 157,000 direct employees in those five years) and fleet to accommodate this growth. Companies like Copa Airlines have grown from 36 aircraft in 2007 to 94 at present, with orders for another 47.

Another interesting development is the modernization of the fleet over the same period among ALTA airlines; from 2007 to 2012 the Boeing 727 was phased out, the Boeing 737 classic reduced from over 100 to just six aircraft and the DC-9/MD-80 series reduced from 96 to just five. On the other hand the Boeing 737NG increased from 123 to 259, Embraer 170/190 from 14 to 81 and the A320 family from 224 to 360 aircraft in the same period. This development continued with the Boeing 787 entering service with LAN Chile as well as the Sukhoi Superjet 100 joining Interjet Mexico. Recently, LATAM Airlines confirmed an order for another 165 aircraft for fleet renewal and fleet expansion, including Airbus A320 Neo, A350 and Boeing 787, and Avianca has confirmed an order for 104 aircraft, including the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350.

Aeromexico has 74 aircraft on order, including eight Boeing 787’s. Leading Latin American airlines are rapidly modernizing their fleet and services to the highest standards, incorporating the latest aircraft models and technologies as some of the first airlines in the world.

Mergers and co-operations, such as LATAM Airlines (LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines) and Avianca (Avianca and TACA) have created some of the largest airlines in the world with operations across many countries in the region. These unified airlines have had to integrate teams of experienced professionals with different national and corporate cultures, language issues and differences in legislation between the countries, that sometimes can be substantial.

All these developments have also affected other related sectors. As an example, the number of licensed Air Traffic Controllers in Chile increased by 380% between the years 2000 and 2010. Maintenance is another group of professionals that has experienced high demand for new mechanics and engineers. Airport services and handling staff, including executive aviation, sometimes have a hard time keeping up with these developments, especially in the major airports in the region.

Helicopters have traditionally been an important working tool in the region and will continue to fulfill this role, especially in parts that are hard to access such as the Andes mountains. Furthermore, São Paulo has the world’s second largest fleet of helicopters (some 500), only surpassed by New York City, and about 260 heliports in the city.

Recruitment and Training

It is complicated for airlines to keep up with the recruitment requirements that come with such large expansions.

“The biggest challenge we have faced in these last years has been to make sure the recruitment and training of new pilots for the company matches the strong growth we have gone through as a company,” said Captain Eric Greenhill, senior manager Flight Training LAN Airlines (part of LATAM Airlines). “We have had to prepare a very detailed plan to make sure our aircraft have duly trained pilots at the times the commercial departments need them,” he continued.

Before the rapid expansion, airlines received their new pilots from the local training industry, as well as a large number of pilots who had retired from the Armed Forces. At recent expansion rates, these sources do not always provide sufficient pilots, resulting in several initiatives by the airlines to ensure an adequate supply of applicants, ranging from sponsoring an aviation school, as is the case for Copa Airlines with the Academia Latinoamericana de Aviación Superior (ALAS - ‘Wings’ in Spanish), to advertising aviation careers and working with local flight schools as does LAN (www.quieroserpiloto.cl).

Captain Pedro Saravia, manager Flight Training Avianca, said “In Colombia there is still a big interest in aviation careers amongst the youth, but there is a lack of orientation as to how one can become an airline pilot. We periodically meet with representatives of the (local, ed.) flight schools to suggest to them how to improve their training programmes, basing this feedback on the results we see during our selection processes.”

Generating awareness of the real possibilities to pursue a career in aviation is an important factor to motivate and train the local youth that currently believes such careers are out of reach.

Airlines have increasingly hired ex-pat’s to support their growth, but in many cases, local legislations limit the amount of ex-pat employees a company can hire. This means the importance of training new local professionals is even greater and more urgent.

Captain Greenhill commented “another important matter is the support of growth and modernization of flight schools in the region. Today, the cost of training is very different from one country to the other for several reasons and regulations as to the required training hours and flight experience to obtain the various crew licenses vary between countries as well, resulting in different training programmes, which in the long term complicate the different courses we require.”

This is particularly important to a company such as LATAM Airlines, with subsidiaries in Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia, all with their own national legislations. Captain Saravia of Avianca, with operations out of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, finds that the training centres in the region “need better technology, use of CBT, aircraft better equipped with navigation systems, appropriate fixed-base training devices and in general, could use equipment more adequate for learning.”

It would seem the ab-initio training infrastructure in the region has had a hard time keeping up with the requirements of new professionals by the rapidly expanding airline industry. A significant number of students from the region are still training abroad, mainly in the USA, such as at Pan Am International Flight Academy, whose Latin American students attended the Spanish Language sessions at WATS 2013 with great interest. There is however, an increasing trend to establish, maintain and encourage local training options. A positive development the training departments in the airlines have noticed over the last few years, is the high learning curve of the new generation of pilots due to the ease with which they learn new technologies, use advanced navigation and glass cockpit systems.


In recent years, according to Captain Greenhill “the region has seen the arrival of the major simulation providers, WBT, AQP model acceptation and flight schools with cutting edge technology. If we want to compete on a global level and be one of the safest regions with biggest growth, we have to invest in training. Accident statistics of the last few years show the region has become even more professional, we have better and more modern aircraft, better airport infrastructures, radars, better trained air traffic controllers and development of PBN programmes. I believe one of the most relevant issues at present is the modernization of aeronautical legislation, ideally unified for the region. This would allow us to advance in big projects that would let all of us to work on AQP models, robust human factors programmes, share best practices, have access to the best simulation equipment, and modernize and expedite the certification processes for their approval by all countries with a regional certificate.”

The large airlines, such as LATAM Airlines, Avianca, Copa Airlines or Aerolíneas Argentinas amongst others, operate simulator centres either independently or in association with companies like CAE, with the largest amount of simulators installed in Brazil. Much of the type rating and recurrent training however is still done outside the region. It is interesting to note that in spite of the changes and increase in fleet and operations in the region during those years, according to the CAT Full Flight Simulator Census only two new simulators were installed between 2007 and 2012, with a total of 26 simulators in Latin America out of the 1334 simulators in the Census worldwide in 2012.

Not only are training providers and centres continuously developing in the region, equipment and services providers such as Colombia-based Nediar which develops simulators and simulation technology are as well.

Even though they have reached a large part of the airlines in the region, new training concepts such as Competency Based Training (CBT), Evidence Based Training (EBT) and MPL programmes are still very rare in the ab-initio training providers. These concepts will allow training providers and trainees to take better advantage of their programmes and align the contents to the latest technologies applied in the aircraft and by airlines.

English training and testing remains another pending subject as discussed during WATS 2013. The issue seems to be more resolved for pilots, but airlines have stated the need for more training and standardization for other aviation professionals as well.

The Future     

The Latin American civil aviation industry has gone through rapid changes and growth over the last decade, and in many aspects is at the forefront of aviation. The training industry, especially in the ab-initio segment, is slightly behind the curve, particularly in terms of capacity but the indications are there to show that this segment of the aviation industry is growing and maturing to the standards known and accepted in other parts of the world. There is no doubt that over the next few years, we shall see more interesting developments in Latin America, and their contribution to the continued progress of aviation shall be ever more noticeable. 

Latin America at WATS         

Halldale Media started a new initiative this year to further integrate and support the Latin American aviation training sector, starting with dedicated sessions to the region in Spanish. These sessions have had great feedback and response from the industry with close to 100 delegates in the break-out room, and more sessions with even better content have been confirmed for next year’s WATS as well as regular content on the region in CAT magazine.