MANILA, Philippines - One of the country’s foremost experts on aviation has urged the Aquino administration, through its Public- Private Partnership (PPP) Program, to support the industry, noting that it would be a source of thousands of jobs in the coming years in the light of the continued increase in the production of commercial jets as demand grows from business travelers, tourists and the public, in general.
Avelino Zapanta, former president and CEO of Philippine Airlines (PAL) and now president and CEO of Seair, made the call following the opening of the Asian Aviation Academy (AAA) in Malaysia.
Zapanta said the government should address aviation issues by tapping some of the local business leaders to participate in the PPP. Zapanta is also a University of the Philippines professor in Air Travel Management and flight instructor at Philippine School of Commercial Aviation, the only government-run aviation school in the country.
He said an aviation academy would produce thousands of highly skilled aviation personnel that would be much in demand everywhere, in the same way that the country produced thousands of seamen for the world’s shipping industry.
In June Malaysia’s low-cost AirAsia joined a Canadian company in inaugurating the $200-million AAA near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The academy would churn out some 12,000 aviation graduates every year, with 400 of them ready to be certified as pilots to feed the need of the growing airline industry.
The demand for pilots and other related jobs is true among low-cost carriers, which had grown surprisingly well despite the many factors that impeded growth, such as high fuel prices and the uncertain world economy, Zapanta said.
AirAsia signed a joint agreement with CAE Civil Simulation Products Training and Services and announced that in the next 15 to 20 years, there would be some 375,000 to 400,000 pilots to man the estimated 50,000 airplanes that would be produced by the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers: Boeing and Airbus. The AAA has four A320 simulators and four more are expected shortly.
Such foresight by Malaysian entrepreneurs appears to have been lost in the Philippines—which has prided itself as the first Asian to mount a commercial flight, to have the first flying school in Asia and also the first to fly commercially across the Pacific.
“The country lost its birthright as Asia’s aviation trailblazer when AirAsia set up the AAA,” according to an airport insider, who said that Clark would have been an ideal site for an air academy. To start with, the country already has 56 flying schools catering to foreign students, mostly from India, with others coming from Vietnam, China, Taiwan and others.
But before we proceed, let us get the arithmetic right.
How many pilots are required in 50,000 airplanes? Captains in airplanes are computed on a ratio of 1:9—for every airplane, nine pilots are needed, so 50,000 airplanes would need 450,000 captains.
What about flight attendants, cabin crew, ground support staff, engineers, form fitters, mechanics and other aviation-related jobs, the so-called mission critical skills (MCS), that are part of a healthy aviation community to keep the carriers going, being one of the most regulated industry in the world?
A one-aisle plane requires a four-man cabin crew; a two-aisle plane needs about 10, and a B748 of A380 about 15 attendants. Other mission critical skills staff would number by the thousands.
According to AirAsia’s partner, Jeff Roberts, CAE Group president, Civil Simulation Products Training and Service, 40 percent or 20,000 airplanes would be gobbled up by Asian air carriers in the coming years. Which means some 180,000 pilots and four or 10 times more mission critical skills staff would come our way if we are prepared to train a huge number of work force who are complaining of being unemployed at the moment.
The shortage of cabin crew is already being felt in the industry, forcing AirAsia to advertise its need for such early this year. From the 1,000 Filipino applicants, 15 (eight males and seven females) were able to hurdle the test. They are undergoing training at the AAA, with allowances to boot.
Ramon Gutierrez, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director general, has offered the facilities of the Civil Aviation Training Center to 15 flying schools that would be uprooted in Manila to transfer to the provinces.
PAL continues to train its own pilots and flight attendants, and also operates several aviation facilities in the Philippines, including various training facilities for pilots and cabin crews, catering services, as well as a data center and a flight simulator.
Cebu Pacific, the largest budget carrier in the country, trains its pilots at the Clark Institute of Aviation that has two A320 simulator training, besides producing its own cabin crews and staff.
Besides being home to 56 flying schools, the Philippines has four academies, which include, besides PAL, the Philippine State College of Aeronautics, Clark Institute of Aviation and Omni Aviation.
But their combined total turnout is only about 150 pilots a year, with still unrecorded number of flight and cabin crews and similar critical mission skills staff.
Just like the AAA in Malaysia, the Philippines has to attract candidates from neighboring countries, such as China and India, two of Asia’s giants whose need for pilots and MCS would be in the thousands in the coming years. Already, scores of Indian pilots have trained or undergoing training in the Philippines, attracted by friendly atmosphere and an English-proficient citizenry.
It would be a difficult catch-up game for the Philippines with Malaysia’s AirAsia, whose intention is to produce pilots, flight attendants, engineers, ramp handlers, guest service staff and aviation managers. The carrier now has a fleet of 150 airplanes and recently ordered 200 AirbusNeo in the Paris Air show last month.
Philippine aviation authorities point to a strong demand for pilots and MCSs due to the increasing number of LCCs. They said poaching would eventually result due to shortage of flyers.
Omni Aviation Corp. laments the lack of assistance from the government, while Clark itself is engaged in internal wrangling with other colocators there.
Zapanta said the Philippines could sustain its aviation dominance if the government provided support to private initiatives.