An AirAsia jet with 162 people on board disappeared Sunday while flying from Indonesia to Singapore. Here are five things to know about aviation in Asia, where growing demand is creating daunting safety challenges:
1. As the economies of countries in Southeast Asia continue to grow, more people have the financial means and appetite to travel. Airlines are struggling to ensure that their training and safety standards keep pace with the demand.
2. There are currently 1,600 aircraft operating in Southeast Asia alone, according to Brendan Sobie, an aviation analyst in Sydney. He says it’s the only region in the world with as many aircraft on order as are already in service, an indication that the rapid growth will continue.
3. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 31 per cent of global air passenger traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association. Within two decades, that figure is forecast to jump to 42 per cent. Asia is expected to add an extra 1.8 billion annual passengers for an overall market size of 2.9 billion.
4. Asia doesn’t have enough training programs to produce all the pilots it needs, says David Greenberg, a former Delta Air Lines executive. He says a global shortage of pilots has prompted pilot poaching, as carriers in the Middle East and Asia have looked to the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe to fill the gap. Boeing projects the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any region in the world.
5. Wages for pilots and technicians in Southeast Asia have not risen fast enough to compensate for the cost of training, which discourages people from wanting to pursue an aviation career, says Lim Chee Meng, the chief executive of Mil-Com Aerospace Group, a Singapore-based aviation training company. The dearth of trained staff means there are fewer workers to juggle an ever-growing workload—and that comes with safety risks.