DALLAS — The aviation industry is staffed with individuals who work around the clock. They are essential to the year-round operation, but more specifically the Captains and First Officers who work on the flight deck.
National aviation authorities keep most of the data regarding active aviation employees. However, they face various challenges in keeping track of active personnel and often provide rough estimates. International agencies, such as ICAO and IATA, or region-specific such as EASA, also keep track of such data.
While some aforementioned entities have not updated their annual reports during the pandemic, we’ve analyzed various in-house reports, previous and current official data, and reputable sources to round up a list of the countries with the highest number of commercial pilots.
We’ve read that there is a shortage of pilots among other aviation personnel. We’ve also heard that there is sufficient staff, some of whom are unemployed. So who’s right and who’s not? We asked the senior airline pilot and asked his thoughts on the matter.
The airline pilot, who asked for anonymity, stated, “Actually, the aviation industry is vast and so diverse that this number can vary widely across the regions.”
“If we take developed countries, the growth rate and infrastructure are well suited for them, and these regions always have huge demand and equivalent or higher supply. In contrast, if we take developing regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, comparatively they will have higher demands and little lesser supply as they expand at higher rates,” he added.
The Captain continued, “If we talk specifically about India, post-pandemic, there has been lots of growth, but to get a job in airlines, young aspirants and entry-level pilots will need CPL and type rating on particular aircraft and a certain amount of flight hours.”
“The airlines and business charter operators need to recruit foreign expatriates only because of shortage of particular aircraft type pilot. However, for common types such as Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s, there is sufficient domestic supply,” he added.
Well, the airline pilot we asked, in short, meant that some regions have a shortage, and some have a higher supply than demand. Subsequently, there will always be sufficient demand for experienced and skilled pilots worldwide.
According to CAE Outlook, Pilots over 50 yrs of age represent 38% of the total commercial aviation industry pilot pool. With the retirement of such pilots, the airline will need more pilots in the coming years.
As of 2019, there are 333K airplanes and 54K business jets active pilots, and in the coming decades, the number is expected to grow. CAE expects that by 2029, the commercial aviation industry will require 264K new pilots.
CAE’s first outlook on pilot demand in 2017 showed that there were 85,000 pilots in North and South America, 85,000 are in Asia Pacific (APAC), Europe employs more than 70,000, and the Middle East and Africa have 30,000 active pilots.
In the 2019 outlook, CAE reported the need for more than 91,000 pilots in Asia Pacific, 65,000 pilots in North America, 16,000 in South America, 42,000 in Europe, 25,000 in the Middle East, and 4,000 in Africa.
As of 2023, the APAC region has some of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world, including China and its province, India, Japan, Turkey, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The region is growing rapidly and will outgrow the other continents in the coming years. While North American countries lead the industry and have the highest number of commercial aviation pilots in the world, and Europe follows them in the list.
The figures shown were gathered from data pertaining to commercial pilots holders of CPL and ATPL licenses. We’ll also mention the first mavericks of aviation for each country whenever possible.
Countries With the Highest Number of Commercial Pilots
Few countries have more than 10,000 commercial pilots. We cannot rank them in the exact order as the data points we have sourced close estimates and not actual numbers.
As a result, we have divided the article into countries with 10,000 to 20,000 commercial pilots, and the Top five countries with the highest number of commercial pilots over 20,000.
Japan, well known for its artificial island airports, is considered the gateway to Asia for Western travelers. It is also home to All Nippon Airways (NH) and Japan Airlines (JL) among other carriers.
Statista states air transportation is primary for international and domestic long-haul commutes. IATA reports that the Japanese aviation sector will grow by 47% in 20 years. ICAO says the first pilot in Japan was Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa, who flew the Farman III airplane at Yoyogi, Tokyo, on December 19, 1910.
According to Civil Aviation Bureau – MLIT Japan, The country is the abode of close to 10,000 commercial pilots and has close to 7,000 ATPL holders. The number is rising as new carriers are commencing their operations. Subsequently, NH and JL, the largest carriers, continue recruiting more domestic and foreign pilots.
Brazil is the largest aviation market in Latin America. It is home to airlines such as LATAM Brasil (JJ), Azul Brazilian Airlines (AD), and Gol Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes (G3).
Worth noting is that the first Brazilian pilot was Alberto Santos-Dumont, which flew various heavier-than-air aircraft at the beginning of the 20th century. He is deemed the father of Brazil’s aviation industry, according to Smithsonian Education.
IATA predicts in its report that the Brazilian aviation market is expected to grow by 105% in the coming 20 years. According to the ANAC yearbook 2019, the country has approximately 10,000 commercial pilots including 6253 ATPL holders.
Brazilian airlines also recruit other regulatory-based pilots registered in their home countries, and they need to convert their licenses if they intend to fly for Brazilian carriers.
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Feature Image: American Airlines pilots at MIA. Photo: Brandon Wade/American Airlines. Graphs: Author