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Rex Warns of Looming Catastrophic Shortage of Pilots in Australia
Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Regional Express (Rex) today warned that Australia is facing a severe shortage of pilots and that this will turn into a crisis in 12 months time as demand by the larger airlines intensifies to cope with their unprecedented expansion plans.

Commenting on this shortage, Rex Chief of Staff Jim Davis said “Already some airlines are struggling to find enough pilots to crew their regular schedules and many are resorting to cancelling flights to cope with the situation. The Rex cancellation rate, for example, is now running at four times historical levels. The latest DOTARS statistics, which are for July, show Rex with 0.9% of flights cancelled, Qantas at 1.6%, QantasLink at 1.0%, Virgin at 1.1% and Jetstar at 0.3%.

“However the situation is predicted to get much worse. Based on industry feedback, we estimate that the net additional requirement for pilots will be of the order of 1,800 over the next two years. The supply of new Airline Transport Pilot Licences (ATPLs) every year in Australia is less than 400.

“It is obvious that the major carriers will not allow their brand new jets to sit idle on the tarmac. They will do everything they can to fill up the shortfall by raiding the regional airlines, general aviation, flying schools and specialist organisations like the Royal Flying Doctor Service, something they have already started doing in earnest. Of particular concern will be the loss of experienced flying instructors to the airlines.

“The smaller operators have no defence against such massive recruitment as they are in no position to match the salaries and conditions of the large carriers. Over the last three months, more than 20% of our pilots have been poached by Virgin, Jetstar and Qantas and I am sure the situation is similar or worse in the other regional carriers.

“It is almost too late to avert some of the disastrous consequences in Australia of the looming pilot shortage as it takes at least eight months to train a new pilot. We foresee the possibility that many smaller regional cities of below 30,000 passengers per annum will no longer have an airservice as regional airlines are forced to concentrate on the bigger and more profitable routes. Also we foresee that some regional airlines and General Aviation businesses will be unable to maintain their operations as they struggle to keep up with the massive turnover of pilots.

“While Rex has taken a big hit recently, we currently have our full establishment of pilots. However 15% of them are undergoing various stages of training and will be phased in over the next two months.

“Rex is fortunate in being able to attract a sufficient number of applicants to join our ranks. Furthermore our very healthy financial situation has allowed us to implement a cadet scheme whereby 40 cadets annually will be sheltered from most of the cost of the pilot training in return for a five year commitment. We are also in discussions with several parties to run our own flying school so that we can be assured of a regular supply of pilots of the high standard that Rex requires.

“Rex has done all it could and we call on the Government to respond to this looming crisis by urgently implementing similar bold and decisive measures. The high cost of flying training, estimated at around $80,000 per individual, is the main reason why there are not enough commercial pilots being produced today. If the government can subsidise the education of lawyers, accountants engineers and other professionals, surely it can recognise that the piloting profession is equally worthy of assistance. Today there is not even a fee loan scheme outside of the tertiary institutions that aspiring pilots can tap into to turn their passion to reality” Mr Davis said.

Rex is Australia’s largest independent regional airline operating a fleet of 34 Saab 340 aircraft on 1,300 flights weekly to 25 destinations from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. The Rex Group comprises Regional Express, air freight and charter operator Pel - Air Aviation and Dubbo based regional airline, Air Link.