• Where have all the engineers gone? An industry report into skills and training of both engineers and pilots has concluded the Australian training system is not capable of fulfilling the demand. (Steve Hitchen)
    Where have all the engineers gone? An industry report into skills and training of both engineers and pilots has concluded the Australian training system is not capable of fulfilling the demand. (Steve Hitchen)

An industry-led report on skills and training in aviation has painted a bleak picture of the current situation in Australia.

The report, welcomed by the minister today, concluded that the nation has a severe shortage of both pilots and maintenance engineers and that urgent action needs to be taken or major disruptions will occur. The report also stressed that this is a significant problem now and not an emerging issue for the future.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has estimated that more than 637,000 more pilots and 648,000 more engineers will be needed around the world by 2036. According to the report, Australia is well placed to take advantage of this demand, but problems in the industry are hampering efforts to do so.

Recently Regional Express (REX)  said it would need to cut back some services due to pilot shortages and criticised the ongoing practice of larger airlines poaching pilots from the smaller regional carriers.

In welcoming the industry report, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack said that training was crucial to the future of the industry.

“Adequate training and retention of aviation professionals are keys to ensuring continued growth of all sectors of the Australian aviation industry and the government supports efforts by industry to find longer-term and sustainable solutions which support the ongoing expansion of the Australian aviation sector,” he said.

“I welcome the contribution already being made by Australian airlines in support of ongoing pilot training, including the programs currently being undertaken by Regional Express and Virgin Australia.

“The recent announcement by Qantas that it intends to open a new pilot training facility in 2019 is also good news for our aviation industry and our regions—I am confident it will make a substantial contribution to both the national pilot workforce and the local economy of the location ultimately chosen to host the academy."

The report is the work of a panel of experts led by The Australian Aviation Associations Forum chairman and former Airservices Australia CEO Greg Russell. The expert panel included QantasLink, Virgin Australia, REX's Australian Airline Pilot Academy, Aviation Australia, Regional Aviation Association of Australia, Aircraft Structural Contractors and Basair Aviation College.

"Solutions are available to resolve the many issues which are involved," the report states, "however, a collaborative and cohesive set of short and longer-term actions is required by both industry and government to ensure the domestic aviation industry continues to provide safe, reliable and sustainable air services to Australians, particularly regional Australians.

"The task then is for Australia to fully grasp the substantial growth opportunity of providing larger scale training for aviation professionals from the burgeoning industry in the Asia Pacific and beyond."

According to the panel, Australia "does not have an aviation training system capable of meeting the requirements of the industry now, or in the years ahead." Among the issues that the panel identified were:

  • misalignment of maintenance training and CASA requirements
  • lack of policy and co-ordination
  • the extent of the regulatory reform program
  • changes in the industry that have threatened the viability of general aviation
  • student loans are capped at a level below that needed for full qualification
  • pilots being offered large salaries to fly for overseas carriers
  • a decline in the number of qualified flying instructors
  • eligibility for temporary migration visas for skilled workers
  • a reduction in the use of twin-engine aircraft in charter ops
  • RAAus is a viable entry level for aviation but is not a direct source of pilots for the airlines
  • other industries compete strongly on salary packages
  • not enough women are being attracted to the industry.

The panel stressed that the issue holding back the training industry were well identified and made a number of recommendations that it believes improve the situation if urgent action is taken. Among those recommendations are:

  • develop an industry-wide career pathway
  • assess the impact of aviation regulations on the viability of the industry
  • consider if RAAus pilot hours can contribute to entry into the commercial industry
  • adopt EASA maintenance regulations
  • review instructor and flight examiner pathways
  • co-ordinate decision making and consultation with industry
  • examine ways to provide financial relief for flying schools
  • reform the system of providing aviation training
  • raise the funding cap for students to $150,000
  • examine the concept of large-scale centres of excellence for aviation training

"Urgent action is required if the country is to avoid major disruptions," the report concluded. "This is not a future threat, it is a significant present challenge that is currently disrupting the industry, and actions to address it need to include immediate mitigations supported by a longer-term sustainable strategy which involves many stakeholders."

McCormack said that he would bring the report to the notice of the responsible department.

“I have written to the Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham, to highlight the Report's recommendations and to note its value as a snapshot of industry views regarding Australia's future aviation workforce training needs," he said.

The full industry report is available from the link below.

 2018 Aviation Industry Skills and Training Report

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