In many respects, there has never been a better time to be a supplier of airline pilot training programs and simulators. The combination of continued global growth in demand for air travel with record backlogs for airliners is stimulating the need for thousands more pilots. That’s good
business for the training and simulator companies.
But with the huge numbers come challenges. Airlines in different geographic regions now compete with
each other for a pilot supply that is more mobile than
ever before. Airlines need to bring in new pilots, often
from ab initio programs, to fly all the new-generation
aircraft that are being delivered and to replace the thousands of pilots at the other end of their careers who are
nearing retirement. And they need to manage this as
cost effectively as possible while maintaining high training standards. Finally, the new generation of aircraft are
extremely software reliant, which means the simulators
that replicate them in training academies need regular
software upgrades, rather like our smartphones.
So the training and simulator market, while growing, is also fiercely competitive as companies vie to
supply the best training solution at the best price.
CAE group president, Civil Aviation Training
Solutions, Nick Leontidis, summed up the market.
“Everybody is looking at the same opportunities.
More airplanes are being delivered, so everyone wants
a piece of the action,” he said. “We are playing our
game despite the continuing shift of competitors and
we have managed to hold our market position. For us,
it’s another set of competitors, but others have [parent
company] businesses that are focused elsewhere. For us,
“Our business and our future are about being the
training provider of choice. We want to train future
pilots at airlines.”
TRU Simulation & Training VP & general manager
Air Transport Simulation George Karam agrees the
industry “is in a very good position, all driven by the
aircraft orders and deliveries...the economic condi-
tions and fuel prices support growth and there is a long
backlog stretching out into the future that is a leading
indicator for the industry. So the fundamentals are
good and it’s a good time for the industry.”
But that does not mean all airlines have the same
“From TRU’s stand point, what we have been
looking to do across the different market segments is a
strategy that looks at our customer needs with a mind-set that one size does not fit all. We support an airline
when it wants to conduct its own training, providing
the simulator and what that airline needs to operate the
training equipment. It’s about packaging and understanding the customer needs as part of a total solution,”
“We don’t provide training ourselves and we believe
that airlines and aircraft OEMs have the know-how to
conduct that. So we are not engaged in the third-party
training business. But through our parent company,
Textron, this is an area we are very much involved in.
We have a pedigree and experience in offering training.
We like to focus on areas where we can bring value.”
Tripling pilot output
It's the training side of the business, however, that is in
fastest-growth mode at L3 Commercial Training Solutions (CTS), which plans to triple its output of trained
pilots to 5,000 per year in the next five years.
“It’s a very good time for airlines and pilots; there’s
a huge demand for pilots…they are being hired as
quickly as we train them,” L3 CTS acting president
Robin Glover-Faure said. “Training solutions is our
business. When you look out at the pilot/cadet training need over a 20-25 year time line, some wildly big
numbers come out. What we do is look at the next five
years because we find that helps our airline customers to shape their own training strategies. The average
number of aircraft coming into service is about 1,850
and from that you can calculate the number of pilots
needed. Then there’s attrition/turn over based on an
average service of about 30 years per pilot.”