“Be an airline pilot. Or work in a zoo”. Those seem to be the stock answers lots of children give when asked the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. For many, those dreams quickly fade as reality sets in. But perhaps they should hang on to the pilot idea, as Boeing has recently warned that 558,000 commercial pilots will be needed globally by 2034 if the industry is to meet the current surge in demand for air travel. That equates to 28,000 extra jobs a year.
Of course, the chances of their childhood dream coming true depends where they live in the world. If they are a European child, then dream on, as there are already an adequate number of pilots, and in some countries, even a surplus, which has helped create an average unemployment rate across Europe of 16%. (So best they continue to pursue Plan B).
But if they were born in the Middle East, or better still, Asia Pacific, then their dream may well come true. These regions are experiencing enormous growth in air passenger numbers and will need lots of new airborne ‘bus drivers’ if they are to satisfy that demand. Boeing estimates that the Asia Pacific region will need 226,000 new pilots in the next twenty years as the Chinese population takes to the skies.
There is a glimmer of hope for the British child dreamer too as many UK pilots are rapidly approaching retirement age. The British Pilots Association says that 90 of its members will reach 65 in the next 12 months and this number will go up each year as the pilot baby boomers grow older. In fact, by 2021, 250 of the Association’s members will be swopping their joy sticks for their metaphorical walking sticks.
Of course, nothing is life is ever easy and that is especially true of becoming a pilot. The cost of training can exceed £100,000 and, as the airlines and military have cut back, this financial burden has shifted to the trainee pilots themselves, or their parents, many of whom have remortgaged their houses to pay the fees.
What’s worse, there is no guarantee of getting a job afterwards, or of having to stump up another £30,000 so as to fund the additional training courses needed to fly specific aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A320.
But is the life of a pilot as glamorous as it appears? The rise of low cost airlines has exerted a downward pressure on pilots’ wages as well air fares and the flying schedules adopted by many means there’s precious little time to spend on a beach somewhere at the airline’s expense.
With the exception of mucking out the elephants’ house, perhaps working in a zoo does seem a better dream?