That the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities be instructed to undertake a study of flight training schools in Canada and be mandated to: (i) identify the challenges that flight schools are facing in providing trained pilots to industry, (ii) determine whether the infrastructure available to flight schools meets the needs of the schools and the communities where they are located; and that the Committee present its final report no later than seven months after the adoption of this motion.
Houston, we have a problem.
Mr. Speaker, Canada is facing a severe pilot shortage, and it has lost the ability to generate the pilots it needs today or that it will require tomorrow. This problem will continue to grow unless there is significant effort put towards solving the situation.
Aviation serves a variety of crucial roles in the Canadian economy by safely and efficiently transporting people, moving cargo and supplying or acting as a vital lifeline to northern and rural communities. Canada has the third-largest aerospace sector in the world, generating $29.8 billion in annual revenue and supporting 211,000 direct and indirect jobs and 5% of jobs in the north.
Global air transport industries will double the number of aircraft and the amount of passenger traffic by 2036. This will require 620,000 new pilots to fly large commercial aircraft internationally. Eighty per cent of these pilots have yet to begin training, emphasizing the need and importance of the pilot training sector on a global scale.
To its benefit, Canada has an excellent infrastructure for flight training education, unlike many countries where air space is heavily restricted. Domestically, Canadian flight schools produce about 1,200 commercial pilots each year. Of these, only about 500 join the Canadian aviation industry each year due to international student pilot graduates returning home or to international entities that purchase Canadian flight training schools that prioritize their home markets.
Here in Canada, we will need 7,000 to 10,000 new pilots by 2025, resulting in a projected shortage of at least 3,000 pilots, given current production rates. According to a recent Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace 2018 labour market information report, this number will significantly increase when the new flight duty time rules are put into effect by Transport Canada in the near future.
As noted in the report, half of flight operators state that finding qualified pilots is a significant challenge, with regional airlines reporting flight cancellations due to a lack of flight crew in the busy summer months. This problem will significantly worsen in the coming years, more broadly affecting the travelling Canadian public, unless action is taken.
In terms of recruitment challenges, the report notes that over half the flight operators surveyed say that finding qualified and experienced employees is a significant challenge. One-third cite finding pilots with applicable aircraft-type ratings their biggest skills challenge.
With new carriers commencing operations and established larger airlines experiencing both growth and the retirement of senior pilots, there has been an increase in the rate of drawing pilots from regional airlines and small operators. This is affecting regional airlines particularly hard. Smaller airlines are a training ground for young pilots, who will normally try to move up to larger carriers as soon as possible. Historically, it took two to three years before pilots moved up, but this can happen now in 18 months, and in some cases six months, under current conditions. This trend is forcing some regional carriers to lower their experience levels for new hires in an effort to maintain their operations.
This hurts regional airlines financially as well. Airlines are often required to give new hires a type endorsement for the type of aircraft they will fly. These training costs have traditionally been amortized over the expected retention period of a pilot. With retention periods dropping from three years to six months, the economics change dramatically. Some regional airlines have reported cancellations of flights due to a lack of pilots and/or higher training costs.
The increasing need for more pilots is also causing faster than normal attrition rates at flying schools. New instructors who would normally work two to three years before moving on to the airlines or charter jobs are now moving up within four to six months. This is resulting in flying schools having a serious problem maintaining a sufficient number of experienced instructors to take on chief or senior flight instructor roles. This in turn further reduces the supply of new pilots.
Some of the biggest challenges in pilot production in Canada are the high cost of training for new commercial pilots, the low starting salaries, and an industry that has evolved a non-linear career path.
The traditional pathway to becoming a pilot in Canada has involved earning licenses and ratings that cost approximately $75,000 yet can climb to over $150,000, with tuition and other student costs, when combined with post-secondary education. Most student pilots acquire substantial debt to cover these expenses. It is common to see high rates of attrition in flight programs due to a lack of financing.
Canadian pilots are also recruited by airlines outside Canada, where many of these positions pay more than local airlines offer. Overseas and larger companies draw pilots away from the flying schools and smaller operators. As previously noted, this adds strain not only for sensitive northern operators but also for niche operations, such as crop-spraying and forest firefighting.
Since I tabled this motion back in April, I have heard from a number of air operators, flight schools and aviation organizations, which all indicated that they are very concerned about the pilot shortage and the future of aviation in Canada.
Ms. Heather Bell, chair of the B.C. Aviation Council, had this to say on the matter:
As the Board Chair of the British Columbia Aviation Council, I am writing this letter in support of an industrywide request for focused financial assistance for Canadians pursuing careers as aviators. It is indisputable that the industry is facing a shortage of qualified pilots at all levels; local, national and international. This shortage is seeing scheduled carriers cancelling flights as qualified pilots are being recruited “up and out” of small and regional operators into the more lucrative positions offered at a national or even international level. While this type of career progression has long been the way of the industry, we are facing a crisis as there is not the requisite level of new pilots entering the system to sustain the pilot “pipeline”. The issue is being exacerbated as we are seeing a dearth of qualified flight instructors making the training of new pilots more and more difficult. Further, the impending regulation change around Flight and Duty Time will see an increased need for pilots over and above the shortages currently forecasted.
In British Columbia, we have many remote communities that rely on air service for routine medical and food supply. Our concern, as local operators struggle with pilot resources, is that this critical access is at risk. One local operator has had to hire and train the equivalent of 100% of their pilot workforce in less than one year; a costly endeavour that also leads to a cadre of less experienced pilots. Other operators have been advertising long-term for pilots for every aircraft type in their fleet, and while they are receiving applications, they are unable to move forward as they cannot keep a training pilot on staff. Another operator that services both Northern BC and Alberta is so stymied by attempts to hire locally that they are actively recruiting internationally but are running headlong into immigration issues that make hiring from outside Canada an economic impossibility.
As an Aviation Council that is focused on ensuring the sustainability of our industry, BCAC fears this pilot shortage will have severe and critical impacts not only on our economy and operators, but on our remote and Indigenous communities. As one of the barriers to increased pilot supply is definitely the financial burden of obtaining the requisite flight time experience, we feel increased financial aid would be a strong indicator that the government is aware of the issue and supporting positive change.
In my riding of Kelowna—Lake Country, Carson Air, a well-respected cargo, air ambulance, flight training and aircraft maintenance company, had this to add:
The challenges faced by Flight Training Units are many and complex. The high cost of the initial training to receive a commercial pilot's license (CPL) leaves students deeply in debt. To ask CPL students to remain in training longer to receive an Instructor Rating is very challenging now. With the current state of hiring in the industry, new pilots do not need to spend the time instructing to build hours to move to commercial operators. Many operators, even including major airlines, are accepting some candidates directly out of flight school with a Commercial Pilot License and little to no actual time in the cockpit.
This obviously creates a trickle down effect where there are then less pilots to train the next generation, and the shortage then intensifies.
At Carson Air, we have a constant backlog of students due to a shortage of instructors. Less and less students are attracted to the industry due to the historically low wages, and high costs of entry and training.
Changes to infrastructure which could help the Flight Training Units would best be served in the form of additional funding available to students. Currently, the cost of a 2 year Commercial Aviation Diploma program is approximately $85,000.00. Of that, most students are eligible for only about $28,000 in student loans. The barriers are huge and many qualified candidates are simply not applying. If they do get through, working as an instructor when you can move to a Commercial flying position in some cases right away is not attractive to them, at all.
Currently we estimate that a 30% increase in training rates is needed in order to retain qualified instructors. This will simply magnify the cycle of higher costs and fewer students.
Programs which allow for streamlined or aviation specific Labour Market Impact Analysis for aviation related jobs—both pilots and Aircraft Maintenance Engineers—are also urgently needed. Collaboration between government ministries [is required] to ensure immigration can be fast tracked for pilots and AMEs with suitable qualifications. Our studies have found that suitable candidates exist world wide, and these people wish to come to Canada. However, applying the tests of LMIAs and other requirements is excessively onerous. Additionally, the current classification system puts pilots in the same category as skilled trades, requiring a potential employer to pay wages equivalent to highly paid skilled tradespeople in that province for what amounts to an entry level position. Paying high wages for starting level positions creates animosity among employees and financial difficulties for employers.
The challenges faced that I have noted above are what we are seeing in the industry currently, today. If and when the proposed Fatigue Management Regulations for pilots come into effect, we estimate that there will be up to 30% more pilots required for the work that we are doing today. This does not take into effect attrition through retirement and airline hiring in the future. This will force operators to reduce service, and potentially create safety issues for operators who have no qualified pilots.
That is Kevin Hillier, the vice-president of Carson Air.
Motion No. 177 highlights only one aspect of the pilot shortage here in Canada. Flight schools and pilot training is a critical component of the pilot-generation machine. However, it is certainly not the only issue Canadian aviation is facing from a broader perspective.
The industry also has a growing need for experienced aircraft maintenance engineers. It is projected that the industry will need a minimum of 5,300 new aircraft mechanics by 2025 to keep up with growth and retirements.
Occupations with the largest hiring needs in the industry include pilots, mechanics, avionics techs, flight attendants, assemblers, air traffic controllers, managers, machinists and engineers.
Our country's economic prosperity will be highly influenced by the health and well-being of the Canadian aviation industry. As parliamentarians, I believe it is our duty to do what is necessary to ensure that it not only survives but thrives.
I would like to thank the many flight schools and aviation organizations that took the time to correspond with me. Many of them had recommendations, which I will forward to the transport committee. I would like to thank the following people specifically: Dr. Susanne Kearns, associate professor at the University of Waterloo; Kevin Hillier, vice-president of Carson Air Ltd., Kelowna, British Columbia; Heather Bell, chair of the BC Aviation Council; the Air Transport Association of Canada; Jim Thompson; Greg McConnell of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association; the Kelowna Flying Club; the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association; and the folks at the Canadian Council for Aviation & Aerospace. Much of their work is cited directly, indirectly or verbatim in my presentation.