Losing Altitude: Can Aviation Meet the Talent Demand?

Losing Altitude: Can Aviation Meet the Talent Demand?

DALLAS – Aviation is a cyclical business. It always has been. Wars, oil prices, and pandemics have caused immediate and long-lasting negative effects on air travel.

Until 2050 and beyond, we face a greater – some say insurmountable – challenge. To make aviation sustainable. For that, we need the next generation of commercial aircraft, new propulsion types, and novel sources of energy. For that, we need new designers, engineers, and financial Wizkids.

But will Aviation get them?

Photo: American Airlines


Let’s talk statistics. Most of you will have read those key reports from those with aviation’s “Big Data.” We’re talking about the big two OEMs (Boeing and Airbus) and key associations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and Airport Council International (ACI).

The problem is that these reports can “flatten” aviation cycles into decade-long trends that give modestly positive, single-digit increases to those interested in our industry. Such as investors.

Take for example IATA, which predicts the need to hire 2.2 million employees worldwide until 2025 to keep up with growing demand, especially now as we have turned the “Covid Corner” and the reopening of the Chinese market should propel the numbers well past the 2019 (pre-pandemic) stats.

Boeing, in its most recent outlook, predicts the need for 763,000 new pilots and 739,000 new maintenance technicians by 2039. Great!. We’re bouncing back. Traffic looks good and we are an international, English-speaking “sexy” industry. Right?

Maybe 10 years ago.

N787FT Boeing Company Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner KPAE PAE
N787FT Boeing Company Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner KPAE PAE | Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Changing Landscape

Things move fast these days. Technology, trends, and pronouns. Aviation is not one of those things. But there’s a good reason for that. Safety. We are, by far, the safest form of transport on the planet, thanks to decades of what we engineers refer to as V&V. Validation and Verification.

But safety takes a long time. Look closely at the eVTOL market and try to find emerging aircraft that have already achieved FAA or EASA certification. It won’t take you long. That’s not to diss Electric Aviation, we need those aircraft in those Urban mobility and short-haul sectors. And fast.

Aviation can improve. CFM’s LEAP engines are 20% more efficient than the predecessor -7B. Try to find another example of a 20% improvement in a core technology (that doesn’t involve Elon Musk). You won’t.

There’s also Sustainable Aviation Fuel, Hydrogen, and Power-to-Liquid (PtL). These areas are where we need creative minds the most. But aviation is competing with every other transportation sector for the same raw materials and the same minds.

Photo: Capt Miten Patel, used with permission

Hidden Figures

Current recruiting indications are not good. In 2022 a UK DOT report stated that its national air traffic owner was struggling to recruit and retain air traffic controllers due to the high level of skills required and the lengthy training pathways.

AIA reported that the US aerospace and defense industry faces a shortage of skilled workers in areas such as data analytics, Cyber, and Artificial Intelligence. And almost all countries are reporting a shortage of maintenance technicians due to retirements and a lack of new hires. MROs, Airlines, and FBOs worldwide are promoting apprenticeship programs to try to expand the talent reach.

We all know what happened with the pilots due to Covid. They were furloughed in their thousands with some never returning. But the world will never suffer from a lack of enthusiastic young people who yearn for flight. That is not as true for those of us on the ground.

“Work” has changed dramatically in recent years with greater demands for flexibility from the workforce. And while the tech industry has shown its fragility in recent years, this is in no way a reflection of the pace and growth of that sector and only a reflection of the big companies’ attempts to out-hire their rivals over the past 5 years.

Aviation will continue to compete with tech, and every other sector, for a limited supply of top-tier talent.

Lufthansa Technik
Photo: Lufthansa Technik via LinkedIn


Aviation is the “human internet;” It’s how we connect people, goods, and services. And yes, we know we need to meet the demands of the environmentally concerned traveling public, but the reality is we’ve been changing all along.

The efficiency trend of modern commercial aircraft is a stand-out compared to all other fossil-burning transportation industries. But we must do more. And for that, we need the hearts and minds of the next generation.

But to do that we need help in getting the message out there. The right message. Our Industry needs to stop greenwashing—especially the airlines. And we need to improve our outreach at schools and educational institutes about the NetZero journey we are on.

And by changing the “Help Wanted” message to the “Help Desperately needed” message, aviation continues to be a great business that we need.

Come and help us.

Featured image: Republic Airways associates

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