Aviation sector to grapple with manpower crunch over next 6 to 12 months: Malaysia Airlines chief

Airlines are also affected by rising inflation and soaring fuel prices, said Mr Izham Ismail. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - The aviation sector worldwide will likely continue to face a manpower crunch over the next six to 12 months, said the head of Malaysia Airlines.

Mr Izham Ismail, group chief executive of Malaysia Airlines, said on Tuesday (June 14) that the shortage of manpower has been apparent in Europe and within Asean, including in Singapore and Malaysia.

"People are not attracted to come back to an airline environment, because first of all, airlines are very volatile," said Mr Izham.

"We retrenched people during the pandemic and (when) we try to call them back... they think twice."

He was addressing industry representatives at a panel session during Aviation Festival Asia, held at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mr Izham said that, among other manpower-related issues, some workers have also moved into the gig economy.

Thus, firms in the aviation industry and policymakers will need to work together to address such issues and attract workers to the sector, he said.

This includes getting workers to fill jobs at the airports, such as ground handlers.

"Resources are our main issue... airlines cannot (restore) the capacity back as quickly as they want to," said Mr Izham.

The pace of recovery in air traffic in the region has picked up significantly following the easing of border restrictions related to Covid-19 earlier this year.

For example, Singapore is on course to exceed its initial year-end target of restoring air passenger traffic to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by this month.

The local aviation sector is on a recruitment drive to restore 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the pre-pandemic workforce by the end of this year. It had lost about a third of its 35,000 workers in the last two years.

In countries such as Britain, a manpower crunch has forced airlines to cancel flights at short notice.

Mr Izham said beyond the manpower crunch, airlines are now being affected by rising inflation and soaring fuel prices.

Fellow panel member Aloke Singh, CEO of Air India Express, said he is cautious about aviation's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

But he added: "We have been through oil shocks, wars, terrorism and financial meltdowns. But we have doubled in size every 15 years despite all these.

"There may be challenges in the short term, and they are pretty serious. But when you take the mid-term and the long-term view, we are absolutely bullish."

Mr Roy Toh, director and head of traffic development at Changi Airports International (CAI), said in a subsequent speech that CAI expects passenger traffic to grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 3.4 per cent up till 2040.

It also expects passenger traffic to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels in 2024, in line with industry projections.

Mr Toh said accelerated recovery in international air traffic is expected in South-east Asia for this year and next year, given that countries in the region are now opening their borders.

"We are expecting seat capacity and hopefully traffic to recover to some 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels by the end of this year, depending on the country," he said.

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