In the latest installment of FINN’s From The Top programme, we talk to Nick Leontidis, Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions, CAE, to discuss the pressing issue of the pilot shortage, training and more.

Last year, CAE published a report which forecast that 255,000 new airline pilots will be needed over the next 10 years, and that 50% of the pilots who will fly the world’s commercial aircraft in 10 years have not yet started to train.

Leontidis said: “There is, certainly, demand for pilots – in different parts of the world for different reasons.”

Asia, for example, is the fastest growing region but lacks the infrastructure and pools of pilots to keep pace with this growth, he said.

“Airlines having to ‘grow’ these pilots very quickly. The lead time to create a pilot isn’t short. It takes time, so you have to really plan for it.”

By Nick Leontidis, Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions, CAE

Autonomous aircrafts and the impact on training                  

Some may wonder whether training to be a pilot now will pay off long-term, given the development of autonomous, potentially pilotless aircraft.

Leontidis commented:  “It’s difficult for me to predict where the autonomous aircraft subject will go but definitely, if you just look at the facts, the order books for Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer carry us out for the next seven to ten years. We know that we will have piloted aircraft to be delivered over that period of time at least and, of course, all this investment that people have made in aircraft today is going to carry them in the future.”

“For somebody wanting to become a pilot today, I think they’ve got a long horizon where they can make a career out of this before they worry about autonomous aircraft taking over their jobs.”

By Nick Leontidis, Group President, Civil Aviation Training Solutions, CAE

Strategic shifts

CAE has always been known for its simulation business but recently also moved into the ab-initio space (training a pilot from having zero experience to being fully qualified to fly).

Leontidis said: “Ab-initio is another way for us to get closer to an airline. We move upstream with the airline, we recruit, we advertise, we promote piloting as a career. We promote the airline as a potential employer, and then we train and move downstream.”

“You can think of it akin to a university alumni,” he said. “Where we’re creating alumni, CAE alumni – people that have picked the career. They trained at CAE, they were placed by CAE to get their first job, and eventually hope they will become president of an airline and remember that CAE was the way they got their career started. It’s a great enabler. Certainly, given the numbers of ab-initio pilots that we think are going to be required, just simply because the pool is drying up, it’s also a good business to be in.”

Partnering for success

CAE also has a number of joint ventures with airlines, such as Emirates, China Eastern and Japan Airlines.

Leontidis commented on the strategy: “We want to deploy training centres at locations where customers have large bases, to be able to serve them efficiently and with the highest quality.

“In some cases, the airline wants to participate in the training centre for different reasons. One is to get some security that the training centre will exist and will be there. The other is, of course, there’s a business out there. They can benefit from some of the opportunity to make some money. I think when you put it all together, we offer the customer the opportunity to either sign a long-term agreement and come and train with us, and rely on a capacity being available for their operational needs. Or they can participate in the business, and invest in the business with us.”

Pressing concerns

One question we ask all our From The Top interviewees:  What keeps you awake a night?

Leontidis said: “For me, it’s actually just seeing how we’re going to serve all this. I think there’s a lot coming and that we have to execute. It’s easy to say that there’s a shortage of pilots and there’s demand, and it all sounds good, but executing all of this at a high quality and with high standards is going to be the challenge. That’s really what keeps me up at night.”

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