Pilot shortage solution will take some time: Mike Higgins

A captain and first mate at work. Photo: Shutterstock
A captain and first mate at work. Photo: Shutterstock

Lack of pilots in Australia will cause “some pain for a few years” yet, the boss of a regional aviation body warns.

Mike Higgins forecasts it will be “another 12 to 18 months at least” before the industry can return to “some sort of full optimal crewing levels”.

And while he applauded Qantas’s plans to set up a pilot academy in regional Australia, he said its benefits would not flow for about six years.

Mr Higgins, the Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) chief, said there had been work done to overcome the pilot shortage.

He said a significant issue was the need for experienced captains from overseas to be able to “fly with us” for four to five years “to train our young pilots up”.

The association has been working towards returning to a “sensible number of experienced captains to come back into Australia” for a period to train the next pilots since visa changes were introduced in the past two years.

“At the red-hot moment we’re still struggling because it takes about four years to train a young pilot,” Mr Higgins said.

“Now we’ve found this way to get the thing back on its tracks, we now have to start advertising and recruiting and so forth.

“So even though we’ve found a sensible solution, working with the Department of Home Affairs, we have a sensible solution to this, it can’t happen overnight, obviously.

“So there’s going to be another 12 to 18 months at least before we can get back to some sort of full optimal crewing levels.”

Earlier this year Qantas announced it was seeking permission from the federal government to address an “acute pilot shortage” by temporarily bringing in a limited number of simulator instructors and experienced pilots from overseas.

A second measure the airline announced to address the shortage was plans to establish a pilot academy in a regional centre.

Dubbo Regional Council is one of more than 55 parties to submit a proposal to Qantas to set up the training base in the city.

Mr Higgins said the Qantas pilot academy was a “great idea”.

“The whole world is crying out for pilots so, I think it’s a good idea,” he said.

“Particularly if they spread the training over two or three regional centres.

“Fantastic for local businesses and the successful towns that are able to attract a Qantas flying academy, I think it’s all good news.”

While it was a welcome initiative, Mr Higgins said it would not provide an immediate solution.

“It takes about 18 months to train a pilot, and then they can sit in the right-hand seat under the watchful eye of an experienced captain,” he said.

“So you’re looking at four, six, at least six years before a new pilot is able to sit in the left-hand seat and act as the captain of the aircraft.

“So while it’s welcomed, it’s a great initiative, we won’t really see the benefit in terms of experienced captains being online for about six years.”

The RAAA is a not-for-profit organisation formed in 1980 to protect, represent and promote the combined interests of its regional airline members and regional aviation throughout Australia.