The Japanese transport ministry has decided to raise the retirement age for airline pilots to 67 from 64 to cope with a shortage in pilots.
The transport ministry said it will make stricter health checks mandatory for pilots aged 64 to 67 and limit the number of flight hours for them to 80 per month.
The airline industry is facing a drastic shortage of pilots as fast-growing Asian airlines buy more planes. In Japan, the entry of low cost carriers into the market has created a demand for more pilots.
"The demand is almost exceeding the supply," says John M. Cox, who spent 25 years flying for US Airways and is now CEO of consultancy Safety Operating Systems.
Quickly-growing airlines need to maintain standards as they hire more pilots, maintenance workers, dispatchers and flight attendants. Cox says the Asian carriers are currently meeting those marks, but it's a big challenge.
As Southeast Asia's economies grow, more people have money to travel and airlines are adding planes to whisk them across the region.
Aircraft manufactures Airbus, ATR, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer delivered a whopping 1,543 new planes to airlines last year. That means a total of 30 planes rolled off their collective assembly lines every week — the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation. Most of those aircraft went to Asia.
"The Asian carriers are trying to really expand quickly," says Michael Barr, an aviation-safety instructor at the University of Southern California. "When you've got cockpit seats needing to be filled, you're going to fill them."
For each new plane, airlines need to hire and train at least 10 to 12 pilots, sometimes more, according to industry experts. The figure is so high because planes often fly throughout the day and night, seven days a week, while pilots need sleep and days off.
Right now, Asia-Pacific accounts for 31% of global air passenger traffic, according to the industry's trade group, the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42%, as Asia adds an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.
Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any region in the world, accounting for 40% of the global pilot demand.
Meanwhile, many pilots, engineers and technicians in Southeast Asia have been lured to more attractive jobs in the Middle East, which boast higher salaries and the opportunity to fly in sleek new aircraft.
Money — or lack thereof — is at the heart of much of the region's staffing shortages, says Lim Chee Meng, CEO of Mil-Com Aerospace Group, a Singapore-based aviation training company that provides training for many of the region's airlines. Wages for pilots and technicians in Southeast Asia have not risen fast enough to compensate for the cost of training. That discourages people from wanting to pursue an aviation career in the first place.© Japan Today/AP