×

Asia travel lacks pilots to cope with travel boom: Airbus CEO

Asia faces a severe shortage of well-trained pilots as the region's demand for air travel skyrockets, Airbus's chief executive told CNBC.

"We believe that we will require close to 200,000 pilots for the region, whereas there are only 65,000 right now, in the next 20 years," Fabrice Bregier, president and CEO of the European planemaker, said on Tuesday.

To meet that need, Airbus and Singapore Airlines launched a training center in Singapore this week, equipped with eight full-flight simulators and six cockpit training devices, and with the capacity to teach more than 10,000 trainees a year.

"There is a shortage of good, trained pilots and this is due to the growth of the region. Instead of sending the pilots to France or America, it is much better and efficient for everybody to have a center in Asia," Bregier said of the center, in which his company holds a 55 percent stake.

The Airbus Asia Training Centre (AATC) in Singapore will be Airbus' largest one yet; the company has similar facilities in Toulouse, Miami and Beijing.

Pilots inside the cockpit aboard a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 XWB aircraft at the Singapore Airshow on February 16, 2016
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pilots inside the cockpit aboard a Qatar Airways Airbus A350 XWB aircraft at the Singapore Airshow on February 16, 2016

Twenty years of rapid economic development across Asia Pacific has bolstered income levels, creating a new wave of travel demand from middle-income households, while market liberalizations have enabled regional low-cost carriers (LCCS) to thrive.

Even as China, the world's second-largest economy and a key catalyst for global tourism, experienced slower growth, aviation remained unaffected, Bregier said.

Beijing reported a 1.1 percent increase in gross domestic product for the first three months of 2016 from the previous period, the lowest quarterly expansion on record since 2010.

Mainland air traffic will grow by more than 10 percent a year for the next five years, according to Bregier, which will help many Asian countries achieve double-digit growth in their respective aviation markets.

"The start of the year was slow, but we confirm that we have a book-to-bill above one [a metric indicating that demand is outpacing supply] this year again. So the market is doing well, the traffic is growing," he said, adding that China's economic slowdown hadn't yet hit a pace that would be damaging to Airbus.

Airbus' main rival, Boeing, projects more than 100 million new passengers to enter the Asia aviation market annually for the foreseeable future. Last year, the Chicago-headquarted firm also warned of soaring pilot demand, estimating that 226,000 new pilots would be needed over the next 20 years, the biggest requirement of any region.

Bregier said scaling up operations was key for Airbus going forward.

"Operationally, the ramp up of our production is clearly the biggest challenge," he said, noting that demand for its 350 and the A320Neo was particularly strong.

Meanwhile, Bregier wasn't fazed by the recent oil price volatility. Cheaper fuel prices are generally considered a boon for the aviation market and Airbus would take advantage of the low-cost environment to improve and upgrade airlines' fleets, Bregier said.

—Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.