June 20, 2017 / 7:30 AM / 2 months ago

AIRSHOW-Lack of pilots could hinder airlines' growth -study

NEW YORK, June 20 (Reuters) - The worldwide commercial aviation industry will need an additional 255,000 pilots by 2027 to sustain its rapid growth, according to a 10-year forecast published by training company CAE Inc on Tuesday.

More than half of the necessary pilots have not yet begun training, the report concludes, as the industry braces for an increase in passenger air traffic that will double the size of the commercial air transport industry in the next 20 years.

"Rapid fleet expansion and high pilot retirement rates create a further need to develop 180,000 first officers into new airline captains, more than in any previous decade," said the report by CAE, which trains pilots for airlines around the world.

Pilot unions in the United States have said low wages and scarce benefits for entry-level positions are deterring a new generation of potential aviators from pursuing the field.

In the U.S., training requirements also are a hurdle for many would-be pilots.

The United States is the only country to require co-pilots to have at least 1,500 flight hours unless they have experience flying planes in the military or are graduates of certain specialized programs.

According to the U.N.'s aviation agency, which sets global standards typically adopted by regulators from its 191-member countries, it takes a minimum of about 250 hours to obtain a commercial pilot license for work as a co-pilot.

By contrast, 1,500 hours is the minimum time required to become a captain under norms set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. agency that supports the development of global aviation.

While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration previously had followed ICAO norms, the 1,500-hour requirement for co-pilots was imposed following the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, a regional jet, in 2009, that killed 50 people.

The 1,500-hour mandate is supported by pilots' unions as a way to improve air safety. However, regional airlines and some aviation experts say the tougher standard does not make flying any safer and has exacerbated the pilot shortage by making the training process longer and more costly.

"The idea was that you would fly a year or two as a paid co-pilot and then become a captain when you had the 1,500 hours," said one aviation source familiar with the matter. "Now you have to get the 1,500 hours before you get the first paycheck." (Reporting by Alana Wise in New York and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Joseph White and Bill Trott)

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