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Boeing Set to Train Tomorrow’s Pilots

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Boeing isn’t happy just making planes anymore–it wants to help fly them too.

Hours after announcing global demand for 533,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next twenty years, Boeing has announced that it will partner with Jeppesen to take tomorrow’s pilots “from street to right seat.”

The company says it will leverage Boeing’s and Jeppesen’s experience to set up a Boeing Pilot Development Program, designed to overcome the pilot crisis. The program will involve initial screening, basic class room and flight instruction, jet bridge and type rating training at Boeing’s training facilities around the world.

David Wright, director, Boeing Pilot Development Program, said at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh: “Boeing has been talking about this demand for years—the Pilot Development Program is our answer, and an investment in the future of aviation personnel.”

Jeppesen will do the initial screening and training through its network–including a competence evaluation in Aviation English (Aviation English: More letters, fewer SNAFUs!).  Jeppesen will also give pilots foundation aviation knowledge, and will help passengers move beyond practical ground and flight training to obtaining their Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

The two companies have developed a jet-bridge course which will give potential pilots high-performance jet theory–with fixed and full motion simulation–specifically intended to duplicate their experience once working for an airline.

“No single company can close the gap in demand. This is an industry issue, and can only be solved by innovative, industry-wide solutions,” says Wright.

No word yet on what fees would-be pilots will have to pay to train at the new Boeing Pilot Development Program (BPDP), or what educational qualifications potential candidates will need to bring to the table before being accepted by Jeppesen.

This pilot hatchery may address the needs of carriers who want to hire newer pilots with lower wages demands to fly all their new aircraft.  I’ve reached out to ALPA for comment, but in an article published this February on the Flying Magazine, ALPA had this to say:

The looming pilot shortage we’ve been hearing so much about lately is a myth, created by airlines unwilling to offer better pay. There is no pilot shortage, period.

ALPA agrees that there may in fact be a shortage of pilots willing to work for poverty wages in a crummy industry, but the fact is, many thousands of qualified and experienced U.S. airline pilots are currently on furlough or working overseas. They are eager to return to U.S. cockpits — under the right conditions.

More than 1,100 ALPA members are furloughed from their U.S. airlines..Comair Airlines closed in 2012, furloughing more than 850 “highly trained and experienced pilots, nearly all of whom are looking for jobs.” Other regional carriers have gone out of business recently, putting approximately 800 more pilots on the street.

This statement was specific to US demand, which according to Boeing’s statistics yesterday will be 88,000 over the next 20 years. Based on Boeing’s numbers, it would seem that the industry could take these already qualified pilots out of furlough–if airlines are willing to meet their salary demands.  Boeing says the global demand for new pilots will grow at a rate of 27,000 per year.

ALPA also points out that US Pilots have a good future waiting for them in the Middle East and Asia where Boeing forecasts demand of 55,000 and 216,000 respectively.  From the same ALPA article:

The average first officer starting salary [at Regional Carriers] is a paltry $21,285 a year, it says. Delta and United..start their copilots at $61,000 a year…Emirates Airlines..pays new-hire copilots $82,000 a year plus a housing allowance and other benefits. Similarly, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific pays new copilots $72,000, again with a housing allowance and additional perks.

The challenge for these qualified pilots, and it is a major one, is the prospect of needing to become an expat and potentially move their families overseas to work.  While some are willing to chase the well-paying jobs around the world, others may find this too difficult.  ALPA’s statement above would show that some of those pilots who have already made the move are homesick.  Perhaps, for these pilots, the money cannot make up for living in an unfamiliar place.

Without knowing the pre-qualifications required and what Boeing will charge replacement pilots to enter the job market, it’s difficult to know whether existing trained pilots are losing-out on a return of the investments they made in their education and training.

When asked about fees and requirements, a Boeing spokesperson replied to Flight Chic as follows:

Fees are too varied to be able to really put into a range at this point. And in its initial phase, the Pilot Development Program is a solution for airline customers. As it grows, we plan to add the capability for cadets to enroll themselves. There is still a need for the entire aviation industry to inspire the next generation of pilots, to create a pipeline of talent for airlines across the world to draw from.

NB Boeing also replied to my question yesterday on corresponding employment projections for aerospace engineers.  A Boeing spokesperson said it was a good question but knew of no studies in this functional area.  They will update if any such studies are published.

Featured Image: Boeing Dreamliner/Boeing

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