Officials with the federal government, after analyzing the various skills training programs on offer, have come to the conclusion that they do not sufficiently address the looming commercial pilot shortage in Canada.

According to an internal document at Employment and Social Development Canada, existing government programs “are not well suited” to the training of more pilots. They suggest looking at how other countries tackle similar problems, such as joint government-industry funding of pilot training.

According to the industry, an estimated 7,300 new commercial pilots will be needed in Canada by 2025 given air travel growth trends. At the current rate of pilot training, industry forecasts a shortage of 3,000 pilots. That figure does not take into account the increase in pilots that will be needed to offset new crew rest periods that come into effect in a year.

“For $5 million, the government could help train 600 people a year. We add 600 people a year, every year, and we’re going to largely solve the shortage in Canada,” according to John McKenna, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC). McKenna’s scenario would depend on the government guaranteeing private student loans or covering the interest costs.

The programs that government officials identified as being unsuitable for pilot training include:

  • Apprenticeship programs as pilots are not a designated trade;
  • Canada Student Loans, as the cost of pilot training ($80,000+) vastly exceeds the maximum permissible loan amount;
  • Youth employment programs, because aspiring pilots are not recognized as students under existing definitions.

One federal program that does work for the training of pilots is the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Strategy, which was set up to help train Indigenous pilots in northern communities so that they can fill local vacancies and spend much, if not all, of their career in the North, where local knowledge is vital.

This comes after a private members motion (M-177) was introduced in 2018 in the House of Commons by then-MP Stephen Fuhr (Kelowna—Lake Country, B.C.) and subsequently passed that called for the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities  to review the looming pilot shortage and to explore ways the federal government can alleviate the situation.

COPA president and CEO Bernard Gervais presented to this committee on the same topic later in 2018.

A spokesperson for Transport Canada minister Marc Garneau said officials are currently looking at other ways of redoing training programs for the pilot training sector.