The government, airlines and academia are trying to expand the nation’s pool of future pilots to cope with expected manpower shortages that could reduce flight services.
Concern is growing as the large number of pilots now in their late 40s recruited during Japan’s bubble economy from the late 1980s to early 1990s will be retiring around 2030.
Since highly specialized pilots cannot be trained immediately, the country is trying to secure more by boosting training schools’ quotas and setting up a loan scheme for students eager to become pilots.
As part of such measures, ANA Holdings Inc., the parent of All Nippon Airways Co., offered a lesson at an elementary school in Tokyo in October with a pilot, cabin attendants and maintenance engineers giving introductions to their professions.
The company plans to hold similar classes in all 47 prefectures by 2020.
Japan Airlines Co., in collaboration with the University of Tokyo, has also organized a seminar for junior high and high school students in which the movements of aircraft wings are simulated by computer.
“We want (students) to develop a wide interest” in the aviation industry, an official in charge of the program said.
The airline industry has seen increasing demand but could face serious personnel shortages when today’s pilots in their late 40s retire. For midsize or low-cost carriers that cannot train pilots themselves, the shortages are particularly serious.
Hokkaido-based carrier Airdo Co. was forced to cancel flights and close routes in November because of a shortage of captains caused by retirement.
Japan’s airlines recruit about 300 people each year to train as pilots, but to cope with future shortages that number needs to be raised to 400 by around 2030, experts say.
To cope with the situation, the Civil Aviation College in Miyazaki Prefecture plans to boost its quota by 1.5 times to 108 in the next academic year from April, while Kogakuin University in Tokyo will offer aviation as a major.
Since tuition at flight schools can exceed ¥20 million ($176,000), six private institutions will adopt a student loan program offering up to ¥5 million in the next academic year. Part of the loan guarantee fees will be covered by JAL and ANA.
The government is also tapping older generations of pilots. At JAL and ANA, pilots who retire at the mandatory age of 60 can be rehired to work until 64. In 2015, the government extended that age limit to 67.
An official at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said, “It is vital to support the whole (industry) by taking measures in various fields.”