Thousands of flights in Japan could be cancelled this summer as the country's rapidly ageing population leads to a nationwide shortage of airline pilots.
Peach Aviation, a Japan-based budget airline, has said that more than 2000 flights between May and October may be affected by pilot shortages. It has already cancelled 448 flights since last month.
Vanilla Air, another low-cost carrier, recently announced the cancellation of 154 flights this month after struggling to recruit sufficient staff to fly its planes. The nation's pilot shortage is perhaps one of the first major indicators of Japan's industry suffering directly as a result of a rapidly ageing population, according to Yuriko Koike, an MP and former defence minister who is producing policies to raise birth rates.
She warned that the situation is likely get worse. "We already know that the number of pilots is in crisis. The baby boomer pilots are now going to retire - and the number of new young pilots hasn't been well recruited," she said. Japan's budget airlines are among the worst hit by the pilot shortages, with the rapid expansion of the nation's low-cost carriers over the past two years accelerating its problems.
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However, experts have warned the issue will affect the entire industry in Japan over coming decades, particularly with the future mass retirement of older pilots.
Demand for pilots was expected to double
Japan's aviation problems come two years after the United Nation's aviation agency warned that demand for pilots was expected to double, resulting in acute shortages in rapidly expanding markets such as Asia. Japan's ageing population is predicted to shrink by a third in the next 50 years.
By January last year, there were 5686 qualified pilots working in Japan, with more than 7000 new pilots required to sustain the industry over the coming eight years.
Young pilots are also said to be deterred by low entry-level salaries. However, data from the International Labour Organisation show that flight officials in Japan earn on average 945,000 yen a month, roughly the same as a GP and three times that of a plumber. A captain with Japanese Airlines could earn 20 million yen a year.
More than 2500 passengers in Japan have been affected by this month's cancellations by Vanilla Air, after it was forced to cut around a third of its domestic schedule. While the airline did not directly blame the nation's ageing population for the cancellations, a spokesman said it felt that "improvements should be made in fields of pilot resourcing and pilot training".