Pilot forecasts, returning routes, vaccine developments, and economic optimism suggest a nearer-term ramp-up for commercial aviation. CAT publisher Andy Smith opines.

During CAT magazine’s Global Airline Training & Simulation - Virtual conference, CAE published their 2020-2029 Pilot Demand Outlook, which reinforces the various aircraft and avionics forecasts supplied by Airbus, Boeing, et al. Together they form quite useful resources for the airline training community and were eagerly anticipated.

In the CAE document, there is much to support a more optimistic view of the immediate future than many may anticipate and, bearing in mind that CAE (Airbus and Boeing) are publicly listed companies, their analyses must be well supported by evidence.

The key numbers in the CAE report include: 75% of the 2019 activity back by the end of 2021; market forces will drive a need for “27,000 new pilots at the end of 2021”; and the global demand for pilots “will require 260,000 pilots in the next decade”. Those are very positive numbers and indicate that the pilot shortage, far from going away, has merely taken a short break and will be back with a vengeance in a year or two.

That view was echoed by IATA during CAT’s APATS virtual conference and via our series of ‘Restarting the Engines’ webinars - Pilots, Recency and Requalifying and Use of FFS, FTD and Other New Technology across the summer, and is also supported by aircraft sales forecasts and fleet size predictions from the OEMs which show a short-term deep dip but end the next decade only a little lower than pre-Covid predictions.

What other evidence is out there to ‘reassure’ us that the next 12 months may be as much ‘normal’ as the ‘new normal’?

Anecdotally and individually we know that many of us want to get back to normal and resume travel to see family and visit favourite cities, ski resorts and beaches. (Nearly 7 million travellers went through TSA checkpoints in the week leading up to American Thanksgiving, 22% above the previous week.) Business travel is predicted to return at a slower rate and perhaps be lower than pre-Covid rates for a good period.

The much-anticipated vaccines, which are an absolute necessity as a spur to traveller confidence, are on the very near horizon with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna estimating at least 40 million doses available by the end of December. US authorities predict that 20 million people (at two doses per person) will be able to be inoculated in January with the entire country immune by early summer. (AstraZeneca estimates delivering four million doses by December, 40 million in Q1 2021.) Pfizer stated, “Efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics; observed efficacy in adults over 65 years of age was over 94%,” indicating that we will at last be able to protect the vulnerable in the next few months.

The airlines will of course have a major role in enabling global and national distribution of the time- and temperature-sensitive vaccine – possibly the largest and most complex global logistics operation every undertaken. IATA has issued guidance, and Emirates, Delta and BBE have already announced their readiness measures.

IATA and airline holding company IAG are also developing a ‘digital health pass’ that will support the safe reopening of borders.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce is advocating a "vaccination passport" for international travellers to electronically verify that people have the necessary vaccine for their intended destination.

Delta and Alitalia announced ‘quarantine-free transatlantic flights, from Atlanta to Rome, with pre-departure Covid testing enabling passengers to escape a fortnight of isolation on arrival in Italy. American and British Airways, as well as United, are trialling free testing for passengers on flights from the US to London Heathrow.

On 19 November Goldman Sachs predicted a 5%-plus growth rate for the US economy through 2021. Hopefully robust growth will be the case for most advanced economies, in which case the much-needed feel-good factor, albeit with masks for a few more months, will be with us.

Middle East carriers Etihad, Qatar and Emirates (who are fighting for market share and dominance) have collectively added 272 scheduled destinations since mid-August (from 209 to 481), while Orlando International Airport has added or resumed service to 31 destinations in November, the start of the US holiday season. MCO has recovered most of its domestic flights, with service to more than 70 destinations, while local hotels reopen for the first time since March!

The last word goes to Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, speaking at the virtual World Travel Market. He said reports of air travels’ slow recovery was “a load of rubbish” and that there would be “an enormous snap-back” in 2021.

Far be it for us to disagree! We don’t. The opportunity of a low-cost weekend to cities like Prague, Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon or Madrid is mouth-watering.

Where do we book?

Read more:

CAE Pilot Demand Outlook

Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook

Airline Recovery Scenarios and the Impact of Pilot Retirements CAT Editor-in-Chief Rick Adams talks with Kit Darby (5 part series)

The Next Pilot Shortage by Halldale Group Editor Marty Kauchak