The consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that by 2028, the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) industry could require up to 60,000 pilots — a number equivalent to 17 percent of the total number of commercial pilots in 2018.
McKinsey’s Uri Pelli and Robin Riedel cite the figure in a new article calling attention to the challenges associated with hiring and training tens of thousands of pilots for eVTOL air taxis. Before the COVID-19 crisis, they write, current commercial aviation operations were expected to require 320,000 newly trained pilots over the next decade.
“The COVID-19 crisis will defer the need for these pilots by a few years and potentially even lower the number required if commercial aviation does not return to its original trajectory,” they acknowledge. “That said, there will still be a need for most of those new pilots toward the end of the decade. Pilots for UAM would come on top of that.”
Pelli and Riedel argue that pilots will be necessary for UAM to succeed in the near term, even though most eVTOL developers plan to eventually transition to fully autonomous aircraft.
“That could take a decade or more because of technology issues, regulatory concerns, and the need to gain public acceptance,” they write. “Until autonomous flight of hundreds or thousands of vehicles above cities across the globe becomes a reality, the industry must recruit, train, and deploy thousands of pilots — an important but much less visible challenge than other issues associated with UAM.”
At the same time, they note, the industry’s explicit intention to achieve fully autonomous operations will create a barrier to hiring the pilots needed in the short term, since traditional flight training costs are overly burdensome for a career that might only last five years. Consequently, Pelli and Riedel state it will be incumbent on the industry to develop an “attractive value proposition for prospective pilots,” which could include subsidized flight training.
Other key initiatives identified by the authors include streamlining the training and certification of pilots, managing the pilot workforce, and leveraging pilots “to provide an excellent experience and increase UAM’s public acceptance.”
“Although the need for pilots will increase the costs and complexity of the UAM business, it may improve customers’ experience of the ride, as well as perceptions of its safety,” they suggest. “This, in turn, will influence the willingness of potential customers to embrace an exotic new mode of transport.”