Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion

The transport ministry plans to remove an expensive hurdle from the quests of former Self-Defense Forces pilots to land jobs in the aviator-depleted private sector.

Prospective airline pilots currently must fly the aircraft they are expected to control in their new jobs at least 12 times for training before they can become eligible for a flight skill test.

But there are limited opportunities for flight training on large commercial planes. And when the opportunities do come around, the costs are high.

This requirement has prevented many former SDF pilots from joining the aviation industry.

The transport ministry decided to exempt SDF pilots who take flight skill tests for passenger planes flown by a pilot and a co-pilot from the training requirement if they have landed or taken off in patrol or transport planes at least 12 times.

Demand for air travel has risen, fueled by the availability of more low-cost carriers (LCC). However, commercial airlines are facing an increasing shortage of pilots.

The retirement age for most SDF pilots is in the mid-50s, while pilots in the private sector can fly until they are in their late 60s.

As of January 2017, Japan’s aviation industry had 6,389 pilots, of whom former SDF pilots accounted for 5.4 percent. Eight or so pilots from the SDF have joined commercial airliners annually in recent years.

Those around 50 years old easily account for the largest group of pilots working at major airlines, and a mass retirement is expected in the coming decades. At budget airlines, many pilots are already in their 60s.

Even now, discount carriers operate their flights with a minimum number of crew members possible. They have been forced to cancel many flights because of the pilot shortage.

Peach Aviation Ltd. and Vanilla Air Inc. had to ground flights in 2014.

Airdo Co. canceled more than 50 flights in November last year and February this year after failing to secure pilots.

About 300 pilots join the aviation industry annually. But an additional 80 new pilots will be needed in 2020 to resolve the labor shortage, according to a transport ministry projection.

In response to the pilot shortage, the ministry has also raised the age limit for private-sector pilots to 67 from 64, as well as expanded the enrollment of the Civil Aviation College, the only government-supported pilot training school.