When the COVID-19 pandemic froze global travel, struggling airlines and airports laid off tens of thousands of staff.

Many of them chose not to come back. There are now 2.3 million fewer people working in the aviation industry. This poses a major challenge to the post-pandemic recovery of the airline industry.

Vaccines and new variants of the COVID-19 virus have reduced the severity of the illness. In addition, authorities have lifted many restrictions, such as mask-wearing. As a result, people are again willing to hop on a plane for holidays and business trips. 

But, the expected boom in growth as the pandemic eases has been hamstrung by the lack of skilled workers at airlines and airports. Instead, flights are being cancelled, and passengers have been stranded as the industry struggles to get back on its feet.

This article will look at the current recruitment challenges and efforts to revitalise hiring in the aviation sector.

aviation job market challenges

Even before the pandemic, alarm bells were ringing about skills shortages in the aviation industry.

In 2019, global travel was at its peak. Thousands of new aircraft and routes were being launched, and companies were aware of a significant pilot shortage.

One of the main reasons for this was that a whole generation of pilots was reaching retirement age. There were not enough newly-trained pilots out there to fill their shoes. It takes a lot of money and time to get a new pilot into the cockpit.

Boeing estimated in 2019 that with 44,000 new aircraft hitting the skies in the next 20 years, there was a need for 800,000 new pilots and 750,000 new aviation technicians.

And then the pandemic hit, which brought the aviation industry to its knees.

the great pandemic employment shake-up

When the COVID-19 pandemic tore around the globe in 2020, governments responded with strict travel restrictions. This dealt a catastrophic blow to the booming aviation industry.

In 2020, airlines lost a whopping $168 billion.

On top of that, staff worldwide were laid off, told to get other jobs, or offered early retirement. When it came time to get back to business, many had moved on and did not want to return.

The airline industry has not been immune to "The Great Resignation."

All over the world, the pandemic highlighted to workers that something had to change. And they started resigning from their jobs in droves. They were tired of being underpaid, overworked, and treated as disposable.

Being forced to work from home also made the workforce question why they had put up with long commutes and a lack of flexibility.

The 2021 Randstad Employer Brand Research report surveyed 163,000 people worldwide for a clearer view of what they wanted from their work life.

The report showed that 50 per cent of workers would change employers if they could do the same job for a better salary. In addition, 63 per cent would stay in their position if they had opportunities to learn new skills.

Other priorities to improve work-life balance were:

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Wellness and mental health resources
  • Training and development
  • Fair salaries
  • Healthcare benefits

The aviation industry is not immune to these demands. 

From pilots to cabin crew, baggage handlers to technicians, the recruitment process will have to be more attractive.

current recruitment challenges

The current skills shortage is not only due to workers not returning to their jobs in the post-pandemic world.

Training has been another key challenge. A lot of training programmes were suspended or cut down during the pandemic. That means two years of training in critical sectors was lost.

The length of the pandemic also required additional training for engineers and pilots who had been away and not stayed up to date. It also meant aircraft were not used and thus needed extra maintenance to get back into operation.

Skilled workers may be choosing alternate industries where they have better working conditions. 

When skilled workers are available, it takes months to get them security clearance in some European countries and the United Kingdom. Not only does this extend the labour shortage, but it also puts those workers off. They will likely decide to find something else rather than wait months to join the payroll.

Another challenge is getting the new generation interested in aviation jobs. Many young people may be reluctant to train to be a pilot or aircraft technician after seeing how unstable those jobs turned out to be during the pandemic.

how airlines are dealing with the shortage

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for the ground handling sector to streamline onboarding processes and develop a more attractive offer to retain workers. 

It has also called for campaigns to educate people about how attractive jobs in the sector are and set up apprenticeships to boost the candidate pool.

Aside from pilots, there is a significant need for workers in the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) sector. Attracting these vital aircraft mechanics should be a major priority in the coming years.

The aviation industry needs to boost salaries, offer training, and make MRO jobs more appealing to women to expand the candidate pool.

Airlines will also need to reassure workers entering the market who may not trust the stability of a job in aviation after the shock of the pandemic. 

Some airlines in the United States have already raised wages and are offering pilot bonuses, while Air New Zealand is offering cash incentives to entice workers to join the airline. The latter is also offering bonuses to current workers who recommend a friend.

Other airlines are offering added benefits such as paid maternity leave to encourage women to join their staff. Some have even resorted to paying massive signing bonuses.

To raise awareness about the availability of jobs, Swissport has launched social media campaigns to help lure workers to 30,000 available jobs.

Meanwhile, Singapore's aviation authority held a two-day recruitment event to highlight the attractiveness of the aviation industry.

However, the main solution in the short term has been to cut hundreds of flights. This ensures safety and avoids an unpleasant airport experience for travellers. 

the slow road to post-pandemic recovery

The aviation skills crisis is not just a post-pandemic problem. The shortage has been a long time coming and airlines, like employers worldwide, need to adapt to the new reality.

There needs to be a drive to make the industry appealing to young people from an early age. There is no quick fix to the labour shortage, but investing in training and the well-being of workers will make aviation an attractive option.

Employers can also rely on expert aviation recruitment specialists to help fill vital roles.

Contact Qualitair to recruit from a pool of skilled candidates.


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