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Understanding the aviation industry's labor shortages

29 September 2022

Have you recently received a text from your airline about how your next flight is delayed? Or outright cancelled? Standing in line at security at the airport, have you ever wondered when they are all going to get their act together? Or at the luggage carousel, why has your suitcase never made it on that long flight you were on?

Labor shortage is an immediate challenge facing the global aviation industry today. Finding qualified candidates is tough for all companies, but it’s particularly acute for airports and airlines that have to ensure that workers have the necessary skills to fill vacant positions. The whole economy will suffer if these companies are unable to find adequately trained professionals. You would not want to trust your life to an untrained pilot, would you?

Worst Flurry of Problems in Decades

The pandemic brought with it an avalanche of disasters, not just affecting communities but also adversely impacting the means that sustained them. Amid nationwide lockdowns and mobility restrictions, the economic situation in the aviation industry became deplorable within the first few months of the pandemic, notably due to the depressed demand for commercial air travel that ensued.

Job losses amounted to a considerable percentage of the aviation workforce worldwide, leading to financial ramifications and economic instability. Labor shortage for airlines reached an all-time high as they laid off thousands of employees including pilots and cabin crews, and for airports that lost their security, and operations personnel either through terminations or staff quitting due to job insecurity and fear of the pandemic.

Reduced capacity and increased travel restrictions led to a labor shortfall. The maintenance technicians, the airmen on the flight line, maintaining and sustaining aircraft, all lead to a workforce shortage across the board.

To illustrate this context, the U.S. airline industry employment decreased to 707,557 workers in November 2021, 5.4% fewer than in pre-pandemic November 2019.

The maintenance technicians, the airmen on the flight line, maintaining and sustaining aircraft, all lead to a workforce shortage across the board
The maintenance technicians, the airmen on the flight line, maintaining and sustaining aircraft, all lead to a workforce shortage across the board


Planning for a Resilient yet Uneasy Recovery

COVID only exacerbated long-standing labor problems in the aviation industry, including an aging workforce and the need to constantly provide workers with more advanced skills through additional education and training due to innovation. These problems have led to shortfalls in positions like pilots and mechanics, which resulted in record flight cancelations this year. Indeed, besides aircraft crews, there are also too few people to perform repairs and maintenance. 

Even with customers currently traveling below pre-pandemic levels, airlines are struggling to ramp up to meet demand due to these workforce issues. This growing labor shortfall started making the news regularly in late March 2022.

At the same time, long check-in and security lines as well as baggage delays started to appear at many airports.

Such a shortfall can surely wreak havoc on the global economy. In North America alone, this shortfall is expected to exceed 8,000 pilots by 2023 notably due to early retirements given unforeseen health concerns among other things.

In order to effectively address this situation, the search for competitive talent to join the aviation industry is in full swing. This will entail looking for non-traditional sources to increase the talent pool, streamlining the processes for attracting and retaining talent, and building the future workforce of businesses operating in this sector at earlier stages.

In addition, offering higher wages to attract and retain workers, using contractors to supplement the company workforce, and last but not least, turning to automation and artificial intelligence, are all approaches worth considering to fill the gap.

AviaPro Consulting has been securing talent for airlines and airports in all areas of aviation operations. Check out our consulting services page or contact for more information.

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