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Pilot shortage hits Vietnamese carriers as air travel soars

Tuesday, June 18, 2019, 10:35 GMT+7
Pilot shortage hits Vietnamese carriers as air travel soars
Two pilots walk at a terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Duyen Phan / Tuoi Tre

As air travel continues to rise in Vietnam, with more carriers joining the market and more people flying, local airlines have to jostle to train new aviators, and at the same time find ways to retain existing employees, to avoid a pilot shortage.

Pilot shortage is not only the problem of Vietnamese carriers but a global issue. Preliminary numbers by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) revealed that 620,000 pilots will be needed by 2036 to fly the world’s 100-seat-and larger aircrafts.

Demand for aviators is also rising in Vietnam, which welcomed its fifth airline, Bamboo Airways, to the sky in January.

The newest airline, along with the four other domestic carriers, Vietnam Airlines, VASCO, Vietjet and Jetstar Pacific, has constantly purchased new planes, increased flight frequency, and opened new routes.

National flag carrier Vietnam Airlines alone currently has more than 20,000 employees, including 1,200 pilots, about 2,500 flight engineers, and 3,000 flight attendants, to operate its 115-aircraft fleet.

But Vietnam currently has only one pilot training academy, the Vietnam Airlines-run Viet Flight Training, which churns out roughly 100 new pilots every year.

Supply of new pilots clearly lags behind demand, according to Tran Quang Chau, chairman of the Vietnam Association on Aviation Science and Technology.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) forecasts that the country needs about 200 new pilots per year from now to 2030.

A Vietnam Airlines plane touches down while a Vietjet aircraft takes off from Tan Son Nhat International Airport, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre
A Vietnam Airlines plane touches down while a Vietjet aircraft takes off from Tan Son Nhat International Airport, in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ngoc Phuong / Tuoi Tre

The pilot shortage will only get worse during that ten-year period, as supply will continue to fall behind demand given the complex, time-consuming process of pilot training, according to Bamboo Airways CEO Dang Tat Thang.

Particularly, it takes three to four years to train a captain for an Airbus A320 and A321, and seven to eight years for an aviator to know how to fly an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787.

As a quick-fix, Vietnamese airlines are raising salaries and increasing benefits to lure new pilots or keep experienced employees from moving to a competitor.

As for the long run, some carriers acknowledge the importance of having their own academies so they can have a pool of pilots at their disposal.

A Bamboo Airways leader shared with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that the airline is conducting studies to open one aircrew training school each in Quy Nhon, the capital city of the south-central province of Binh Dinh, and the northern province of Quang Ninh.

“We expect to have our own human resources in the next one or two years,” the Bamboo Airways leader said.

Meanwhile, Vietjet is one step ahead of its competitors with a training center, which complies with the Airbus and European Aviation Safety Agency’s standards, opened under its cooperation with Airbus in Ho Chi Minh City in 2018.

The Vietjet flight training center organizes 924 training courses for 21,611 trainees, including 157 pilot training courses, 127 flight attendant courses, and 128 engineer training courses.

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