Free online course aims to address aviation staffing shortfall

The University of Waterloo is partnering with an UN agency to offer a free online course on aviation topics starting late November.

University partners with UN to address staffing gap in pilots, other aviation jobs

Suzanne Kearns, a professor at the aviation program at University of Waterloo designed the online course named Fundamentals of the Air Transport System. (CBC)

Curious about planes and all things air travel related? Starting late November, you can take a free online course on air transport systems designed by University of Waterloo and offered by an United Nations agency, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The course will include nine sections, each needing 45 to 90 minutes to complete and covering subject matters like air law, aircraft and navigation. While it's free to take the course, it will cost $100 US to write a qualifying exam for an electronic certificate.

"What we're trying to do is support the next generation of aviation professionals," Suzanne Kearns, a professor at University of Waterloo's aviation program, told CBC's Andrew Coppolino on The Morning Edition.

Kearns is also the vice chair of the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals, a program launched by ICAO to address an anticipated shortage of aviation professionals – which she described as anyone who works at an airport or in the air traffic control system.

High air traffic and brain drain

She identifies two reasons for the shortage.

A study by CAE, an organization whose expertise lies in aviation training, forecasts passenger air traffic to double over the next 20 years.

Over the next 10 years, CAE anticipates the need for 255,000 new pilots globally "to sustain and grow the commercial air transport industry," she said.

"That's going to require a lot of influx of new, confident young people to help us manage that growth," Kearns said.

The second one involves a brain drain – where many pilots are leaving Canada and North America entirely for Asian markets. One of the reasons is salary.

The report says Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific airlines offer a 10 to 15 per cent salary premium on average, compared to airlines in the western hemisphere.

Some Chinese airlines will offer salary premiums in excess of 70 per cent.

Shortage felt 

Kearns said Canada is starting to feel the pilot shortage, where some regional airports have had to park planes because there was no one to fly them.

"The number of pilots needed in Canada is about twice the number of pilots that our flight school is producing every year," she said.

A release from University of Waterloo said people may find the cost of training to be a barrier or not know about the range of aviation-related careers that exist.

The university expects the online course to address some of the barriers young people may have to exploring those career options.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.