The predicted exponential growth of air traffic across Asia-Pacific may excite airline companies, but without enough trained workers to fly, manage and maintain the aircraft, these figures remain a pipe dream. The International Air Transport Association’s Karen Stephenson looks at how greater training and industry-wide coordination can help overcome an impending skills shortage.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, the airline industry is expected to increase capacity dramatically over the next 15 years. By 2030, the region will have outperformed everywhere but the Middle East, with passenger rates growing by 6.2%, representing 31.0% of the worldwide distribution of international travel. This is good news for regional stakeholders, but without the right personnel available to sustain them, such projections are meaningless.

According to an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecast, by 2030, the Asia-Pacific region will need 44,282 air traffic control officers (ATCOs). To achieve this, they need to get 2,931 up and running every year, but current capacity stands at 1,865. The resultant 1,066 annual deficit represents a significant shortfall and, as jeopardising safety simply isn’t an option, could see a steady increase in delays and costs to airlines and travellers.

Pilot study

"The cause of the shortage of ATCOs is institutional and long-standing, and is probably based on lack of forward planning and investment by individual air navigation service providers," says Karen Stephenson, product manager for civil aviation, air navigation services, safety management and performance at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

"Some countries are better at matching needs to supply, but significant financial events such as the global financial crisis have also impacted the ability of states to fund their ATCO training programmes," she continues. "Major capital investment is needed to fund air traffic management modernisation to buy the systems that support modern air traffic handling.

"Usually, states invest the revenues gained through overflight and airport handling charges back into aviation, and air traffic management is a beneficiary – however, in some states even this does not happen."

As well as a shortage of ATCOs, the sector is also failing to train enough pilots. IATA has supported initiatives to address this, in particular the work of the outreach workstream under the International Pilot Training Consortium (IPTC). Its objectives include examining the barriers to the international movement of pilots, as well as assisting with the development of the ICAO ‘Next Generation of Aviation Professionals’ (NGAP) best practices database for attracting, training, retaining and educating new pilots. At the same time, IATA is also running its own Training and Development Institute.

"Through our training arm, we’ve been instrumental in the general aviation education, and upgrading of business, management and technical skills of pilots, controllers, engineers, aviation managers, ground handlers and tourism managers, to name a few," says Stephenson.

"With most programmes and initiatives concentrating on producing new pilots, ATCOs and engineers, the longer-term issues of keeping these professionals in the workforce, deploying them globally where they are most needed, their job satisfaction, longer-term careers and retention in the industry are only partially being addressed."

Managing the future

For over a decade now, IATA has also been concentrating on developing the management skills of civil aviation and air navigation service providers. IATA offers diplomas in everything from aviation management to air navigation services management.

"Through the Aviation Training Academy of ATNS South Africa, which is IATA’s biggest affiliated regional training partner, IATA has been boosting the skills of all participants," says Stephenson. "Some of the exciting developments with regional training partners are being able to bring quality training to developing regions, with training in English or the local language.

"We can see great benefit to coordinating more closely with air navigation service providers and are open to discussing partnerships with them," she continues. "There are giant leaps that can be achieved through closer cooperation on issues such as the implementation of aviation-system block upgrades, cybersecurity and air navigation service provider executive management development."

With passenger traffic set to increase globally, closer collaboration between all stakeholders will be critical for ensuring the necessary pool of skilled labour exists to manage the flights. Without it, the positive projections and ambitious aspirations will be difficult to fulfil.