Leadership & talent

Human capital lends wings to sustained aviation growth in APAC

06 March 2017 by Sim Kok Chwee
New Airbus Asia Training Centre opens in Singapore

At the Farnborough International Airshow 2016, Airbus’ Global Market Forecast (GMF) envisaged the delivery of 33,070 new airplanes over the next 20 years, with 40.6 percent of these (13,420 airplanes) destined for the Asia-Pacific region. GMF further indicates that the Asia-Pacific region alone will need to fulfil the demand for 232,000 pilots in the next 20 years (almost equal to the combined demand for pilots for North America, Europe and the Middle East).

A report by InterVISTAS for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicates that air transport directly and indirectly impacted 33.7 million jobs and US$705 billion in GDP across the Asia-Pacific region in 2014. Strategically located at the centre of this region, Singapore will have to stay on the course of its planned infrastructure development and, more importantly, support it with the development of its human capital, if it is the ride the growing wave.

Against this backdrop, Airbus and Singapore Airlines (SIA) inked a US$100 million joint venture to establish the Airbus Asia Training Centre (AATC) in Singapore’s Seletar Aerospace Park. Five full flight simulators are currently operated round the clock with a sixth by end-2016. By the time the centre’s eight simulators are fully operational in 2019, it will be Airbus’ largest flight crew training centre in the world and have the capacity to train more than 10,000 trainee pilots annually.

Courses to lend wings to a flying career

AATC offers a full spectrum of courses that match the career lifespan of a pilot, beginning with entry-level training that takes a pilot fresh out of flying school, and provides the bridge from a light aircraft to a large aircraft operating in a multi-pilot crew environment. Type-rating courses are offered to qualify pilots to operate the Airbus A320, A330, A350 and A380, and recurrent and refresher courses are designed for active pilots to maintain and refresh their type rating. As a first officer gains experience, command courses are available to train him or her to take on the role of a captain. At the top of the pilot’s career pyramid, there is a course to qualify a senior pilot for the role of an instructor and/or examiner.

E-learning is also possible for a variety of modules via Airbus’ Learning Management System. Going forward, AATC is also planning to offer ab-initio pilot training in partnership with various flying schools.

Captain Yann Lardet, general manager of AATC, said: “Pilot trainees from 22 customers from the Asia-Pacific region, Africa, Middle East and the Southwest Pacific are keeping the simulators busy round the clock. Beyond the current plans, the centre has room for two more simulators, and should the need arises there is potential to increase the total number of simulators to 16.”

Along with other pilot training facilities operated by the ST Aerospace Academy and Boeing, AATC strengthens Singapore’s position as a key pilot training centre and greatly improves the prospects for senior pilots with vast experience to gain a second wind in their career as instructors and examiners.

Singapore was chosen to complement Airbus’ other flight crew training centres in Toulouse, Miami and Beijing for a variety of compelling reasons. Being able to secure SIA as a partner was a big win as the airline not only brought its operational expertise to Airbus’ airplane design knowledge, but also allowed AATC to leverage the availability of very senior pilots who are retiring from SIA or moving from other Singapore-based airlines. This ensures that there is no leakage in the skills and expertise from the field, and that experience is passed on to the next generation of pilots.

According to Captain Lardet, Singapore is also attractive as a hub due to the ease it offers in reaching out to customers and its business-friendly posture. Its comprehensive air connectivity (as of July 2016, Changi Airport is directly linked to more than 330 cities in 80 countries) and streamlined immigration procedures and policies also facilitate the movement of both trainers and trainees.

Beyond pilot training

AATC’s training curriculum extends beyond pilot training to include maintenance for its costly and maintenance-intensive flight simulators. As Singapore grows as a training hub, the demand for highly specialised technicians to maintain these simulators will similarly grow.

AATC offers four-month internship programmes to up to four students each year from the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University. These students will be trained to be qualified simulator technicians, and when they graduate from the universities, AATC hopes to offer employment opportunities to suitable candidates. Besides serving as a pipeline of simulator technicians for AATC, this internship programme also serves to broaden the talent pool for simulator technicians in Singapore.

Captain Lardet sees training not only as a vehicle to serve the company’s need, but also as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. These technicians will be both laterally and upwardly mobile within the pilot training landscape.  Its CSR initiative also extends to offering professional training to aerospace professionals in secondary functions such as marketing, financial and quality management.

Skills for the future

AATC’s expanding mandate is aligned to demand  for skilled manpower in the aviation space, which extends far beyond pilots as airport infrastructure grows. Singapore’s willingness to plan ahead of demand for infrastructure is well recognised, but it faces a dilemma posed by a combination of a tight labour force and the types of training that are needed to support such infrastructure. Such expertise is especially crucial at a time when Singapore plans to double Changi Airport’s handling capacity with the near-completion of Terminal 4 and development of Terminal 5.

Growing airport capacity also demands an increase in operational staff for ground handlers who face a serious crunch.

Gary Ho, senior lecturer for the Diploma in Aviation Management and Services at Temasek Polytechnic says: “There is a tremendous need for Singapore to develop its finite human capital in the areas of ground handling, airport infrastructure planning and development, air traffic management and safety. The skills required are invariably too location-centric and specialised for educational institutions to design courses to cater to their specific needs. Training is ultimately done on-the-job while we prepare them with broader knowledge of the aviation industry.” There is consequently a need for training courses in the workplace as well – either formal courses or on-the-job in close collaboration with educational institutions.

He added that “there is a strong need for continued lifelong learning, for job enlargement or upgrading of skills, and for its scope to embrace the newest technologies; for travellers to be gently nudged towards using self-service facilities; and for regulatory policies to be formulated based on trusting the latest technologies”.

Since the aviation industry competes with other sectors of the economy for human capital, Ho emphasised that there is also a need to move beyond the low-wage model. “Those already employed in the industry and those planning to enter it should be able to visualise a career development roadmap that is equal to or surpassing that offered by other industries. This is the only way the aviation industry can attract the right human capital and retain the human capital it laboriously trained,” he explained.

Riding the next wave

According to the IATA report, aviation impacted 323,300 jobs in Singapore and 9.8 percent of the nation’s GDP (amounting to US$30 billion) in 2014. Comparatively, the much larger air transport industry in Thailand accounts for US$29 billion or 7.2 per cent of its GDP. This clearly illustrates the trickle-down effect the aerospace industry has on the broader Singapore economy.

The aviation industry is kicking into high gear as middle-income earners in emerging economies of China, India, Indonesia (and to a lesser extent, the awakening economies of Vietnam and Myanmar) increasingly take to air travel. This only means that Singapore has to be ready to ride the next wave by ensuring that it has the necessary talent pool to support the growth of the aerospace industry.

Edited by Kritika Srinivasan and Goh Wei Ting