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Addressing the ongoing global pilot shortage issue

Source: Finance Derivative

By Bhanu Choudhrie, Founder of Alpha Aviation

The Covid-19 pandemic brought the aviation industry to a halt, causing vast market disruption and putting the future of many key players at risk. Now, just as airlines were getting back on track, staffing shortages are causing new complications – and part of this issue is a growing pilot recruitment problem.

So, where does the sector go from here and what steps need to be taken to mitigate pilot shortages?

The root of the issue

Even before the pandemic, there was a global shortage of pilots, with people flying more due to a rise in more affordable airlines and falling fuel costs. In fact, the 2020-2029 CAE Pilot Demand Outlook suggested that the global civil aviation industry will require more than 260,000 pilots by the end of the decade.

However, when demand for air travel dropped across the globe, airlines were quick to offer early retirement packages to reduce immediate outgoings. Whilst this approach helped some airlines stay afloat during the slowdown, a wave of early retirements has left them on the back foot.

Now demand is coming back much faster than expected. In the US alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is expecting 14,500 openings for commercial and airline pilots each year until 2030, and this imbalance is already having a detrimental impact on the aviation industry. With flights being cancelled, travellers left stranded, and some airports losing service altogether, it is crucial that the larger aviation ecosystem comes together to work out a solution to effectively address this pilot shortage crisis, so that it can once again meet capacity demands.

Re-directing efforts to rebuild pilot pools

With vast swathes of pilots put on furlough during the pandemic – and therefore unable to maintain their license requirements, the damage isn’t just in the ongoing pilot shortage, but also in the decades of experience the industry has lost. In response to this narrative, last month a Senator in the US introduced legislation to raise the mandatory retirement age of commercial airline pilots from 65 to 67 – and the US are not alone in this shift. Last week, Air India announced that it will be raising their retirement age for pilots from 58 to 65. Now we need to see other countries and airlines follow suit to help retain the talent that can help guide and mentor the next generation of cadets.

Moreover, training schools and airlines will need to work together to challenge industry stereotypes and empower more women to pursue a career in the cockpit. Currently, just 5.1 per cent of the world’s commercial pilots are women. This means that for every twenty flights taken, only one of them will be piloted by a woman. Unfortunately, this gender imbalance has become a long-established trend within the aviation industry and, stereotypically, pursuing a career as a pilot has been considered a male occupation, with women type cast to cabin crew instead. Therefore, if we are to make proactive strides towards addressing the current pilot shortfall, finding a way to shift that percentage is essential.

The cost of training to be a pilot is also a key barrier the industry needs to address, and at pace. On average, the cost to train as an air transport pilot can exceed $100,000 – making a career in the cockpit unattainable to many. One way for the industry to help narrow the gap and mitigate what is often seen as a considerable financial risk, is to make bursaries more accessible. There are already a number of programmes in place, to support both aspiring pilots and those who need to maintain their licenses, however, now the industry needs to work on championing and expanding these support systems.

The industry also needs to start to embrace alternative approaches to alleviate this substantial outlay. For example, at Alpha Aviation, we have started running the the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL). This is a shorter, more simulator-focused way of training that not only opens up opportunities for prospective cadets from less privileged backgrounds, but also offers a more flexible training programme and quicker route to qualification – reducing the financial expenses for cadets to cover.

Technological innovations can also play a crucial role in advancing the training process to help support a consistent employee base. For example, e-learning programmes can enable airlines to expand cadet class sizes. No longer restricted by the physical capacity of training centres, e-learning programmes have the potential to significantly open up access to becoming an aviator and will ensure airlines can recruit the best talent, irrespective of locality. In addition to this, pilots still need to clock up over 1,500 flying hours to receive their ATP certificate. Therefore, investing in simulator training facilities is now pivotal in supporting cadets to keep on top of the legal requirements and improve their skills set at a significantly quicker pace, alongside supporting existing pilots to retrain on new aircrafts when necessary.

Looking ahead

The pressure on the aviation industry shows no signs of abating any time soon. Therefore, while it is great to see passenger numbers returning to near pre-pandemic levels, the industry needs to take this as a significant wakeup call and re-assess its pilot recruitment process.

At the end of the day, there is no quick fix – training top of their class pilots takes time, investment and enthusiasm. However, addressing the ongoing chaos and driving the sector out of this turbulent period is essential to the economic revival of the nation. Therefore, decisive action is needed – and it is needed now.

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The battery technology driving sustainable change in the EV industry

Konstantin Solodovnikov, CEO, Innolith  

A common belief in the e-mobility industry is that Lithium-ion batteries have reached their full potential. But this is where the EV market’s most damaging crisis is rooted. Because if true, what was meant to make electric vehicles (EVs) a critical part of our future has played a pivotal role in stunting adoption – battery sustainability.

Current EV battery production and disposal methods harm the environment more than their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles counterparts. The use of cathode materials and the resulting environmental footprint is a core factor, and Lithium-ion batteries not being fully recyclable only exacerbates the situation.    

Some have looked for alternative sources to spearhead battery cell innovations, like Solid State and Silicon Anode. Over the past 12-18 months the former proved to have manufacturing and cost issues, and the latter performance challenges. Others in the industry have turned to battery cells powered by iron, magnesium and silicon.

Breakthrough battery innovation to power e-mobility

But it’s the development of the first Li-ion battery to use the only fully recyclable inorganic electrolyte that is set to free EVs from the key barriers to mass adoption.

This breakthrough in battery chemistry innovation means EV battery cells containing fully recyclable electrolytes are now a reality. As such, EV battery production can become a significantly cleaner process than previously thought. These new cells will reduce the use of key components lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese by 20% per kWh and offers an unforeseen opportunity to reuse sulphur dioxide (SO2), a by-product of mining and related polluters. 

Championing a circular economy

At the current rate, landfill sites will be filled with 250,000 tons of battery over the next 15 years. These new inorganic electrolytes help address this problem as they can be recycled repeatedly. In addition to supporting a circular economy, they reduce waste management requirements, which come with their own environmental and financial costs.

If used worldwide, inorganic electrolyte battery cells could reuse up to 10% of manmade SO2 pollution by 2035. Furthermore, the huge reduction in raw materials will significantly diminish the EV industry’s environmental impact. Together, these factors complement six of the UN’s sustainability goals, including, making EVs more accessible to all, lowering costs and leveraging the circular economy.

Mass adoption is certainly possible. Inorganic electrolyte battery cell technology can be easily integrated into 99% of the e-mobility market and all EV manufacturer production lines where cylindrical batteries are used. It is also highly compatible with existing and future supply chains, production equipment, and processes

But this isn’t the limit of the benefits for EV manufacturers. Via better production processes, raw material integration and improved efficiency of the use of the energy inside of a battery pack, these new battery cells will achieve 10-20% improved performance.

Rolling with the climate

One often-overlooked barrier to EV adoption is temperature range. This has hindered car buying markets and the adoption of EVs in areas like warehouse logistics, transport and manufacturing.

At 0°C, conventional EV batteries experience a drop in performance that gets significantly worse as temperatures fall. The new inorganic non-flammable electrolytes provide vastly improved temperature ranges – from -40°C to +60° C for discharge and -20°C to +60°C for charging – allowing batteries to operate in extreme conditions.

All-weather battery cell technology opens up the possibility of e-mobility entering space travel and delicate earthbound ecosystems, with new EV batteries supporting scientific discoveries as they fuel vehicles through environments ICE emissions would damage.

A greener, safer, longer dive

These environmental credentials have been developed without sacrificing battery performance too. Inorganic electrolytes provide higher energy density, superior charging times, and a 40% reduction in heat release in case of a thermal runaway for better safety.

EVs will now be able to deliver on their promise of addressing the environmental issues created by ICE vehicles. With the new breed of cells overcoming the limitations of conventional Li-ion batteries, it provides an economical alternative that reduces costs and EVs that need less maintenance and service support – encouraging adoption.

Building European momentum

Global demand for Li-ion battery demand is to increase ten-fold with China and Europe expected to be the largest contributors. And EV sales are rising globally, with 52% of consumers looking to buy according to the recent EY Mobility Consumer Index (MCI).

Here, we find China is still dominating the global battery race. EVs rely on Li-ion batteries of which China produces 76%, while the U.S. makes only 8% and Europe even less at 3%. As such, China leads EV battery supply (76%) and the world EV market.

Developed and produced in Switzerland and Germany, recyclable electrolyte batteries mean Europe can close the gap in China’s dominance in the EV battery market and control of the supply chain.

Europe has a heritage in the automotive industry and an economy that prides itself on environmental leadership. Batteries with increased performance and sustainability credentials are critical for the mass adoption of EVs but thus far most of the innovation has come from Asia. Europe needs to have a seat at the table.

Good things happen when there’s competition – it spurs further innovation.

Breakthroughs and advances in Li-ion battery tech have given it a new lease of life and one that means EVs can fulfil their true potential in the next few years, not in the future. This presents an opportunity to advance sustainable change, encourage EV adoption and champion European innovations on a global stage.

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How the semiconductor shortage is affecting the automotive sector

Just a few years ago, we were talking about the talent shortage within the semiconductor sector.

Today, we are talking about a very different, but just as damaging, shortage – the semiconductors themselves.

  • Ford shut its Germany-based factory for a month
  • Volkswagen declared they would build 100,000 fewer cars
  • Honda UK shut down for several days

These are just some of the realities of a silicone chips (semiconductor) shortage.

The automotive sector isn’t the only industry being hit. Still, it is largely feeling the impact due to its reliance on the chips to operate power windows, airbags, dashboard displays, catalytic converters and, of course, for electrification.

Why is there a semiconductor shortage?

The silicone chips shortage in the automotive sector is the result of multiple factors, including the pandemic, geopolitical disagreements, factory and plant fires, and freight constraints:

When COVID-19 hit, a drop in sales led to many vehicle manufacturers reducing their orders.

This meant the companies that usually supplied them with their silicone chips moved on to other customer bases such as the electronic and IT sectors.

When automotive demand began to recover, manufacturers were effectively put to the back of the queue; as semiconductors manufactured for video games and 5G smartphones yield higher profit margins than those utilised in vehicle manufacturing.

Geopolitics also played a role, particularly for US and China-based companies. When the Trump Administration tightened semiconductor sales regulations to ZTE, Huawei Technologies and more, these firms began stockpiling in response.

China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation also cut off US firms.

Two fires in Japan added to the disruption, particularly for the automotive sector, as one of the factories was manufacturing advanced sensing devices.

Finally, global transportation constraints have contributed to the shortage. Not only is ocean freight struggling to leave ports in China to deliver the chips, but a lack of shipping containers means manufacturers are forced to pay premiums.

It doesn’t look great for airfreight systems either, as vaccine delivery naturally takes precedence, and a shortage in passenger travel is further reducing freight opportunities. The volume of connected and unconnected circumstances has resulted in a shortage of semiconductor chips, meaning that automotive sales will likely be even lower than what was predicted in response to the pandemic.

What’s being done?

In a letter directly to President Biden, groups from the automotive, telecommunications, healthcare sectors and more called on the government to ‘reinvigorate semiconductor manufacturing in the US’

Jen Psaki, the Whitehouse Press Secretary, stated in February that Biden plans to take on a comprehensive review of supply chains and critical goods.

But when it comes to a plan to help the automotive industry and others, not much can be done presently.

That’s because the construction of new factories, which seems to be the apparent solution, requires billions of dollars and many years to construct.

Currently, US silicone chip factories host a mere 12% of global semiconductor manufacturing, and the lead time for manufacturing a semiconductor chip can be up to 26 weeks.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. While there may be little short-term gains, some will eventually benefit from the current silicon chip shortage.

Who benefits from the semiconductor shortage?

UK chip manufacturers: The UK’s largest chip factory, Newport Wafer Fab, is looking to cash in on the shortage, using the funding to increase the number of chip wafers it makes from 8,000 to 14,000. This will be particularly advantageous if automotive manufacturers move their orders to UK-based businesses, which aren’t involved in the geopolitical disputes mentioned earlier.

US chip manufacturers: While US-based auto manufacturers will continue to struggle in the short-term, the shortage has called to light the need to build more semiconductor factories ‘at home’.

Semiconductor job seekers: Whether within the automotive industry or another industry that is reaping the benefits of silicon chip production, skilled job-seekers will undoubtedly see even more opportunities arise later down the line.

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New driving simulator technology helps car makers to develop cars in shorter time and more sustainably

The latest simulator from specialists Ansible Motion will support car makers to shorten development times and test in a more sustainable way. With simulation now a key enabler for vehicle manufacturers to develop their ever-increasing range of new vehicle technologies and advancements, the UK firm is ensuring they have a capable and effective means of supporting the varied requirements now needed.

Designed to be capable of validating the technologies needed to enable megatrends of electrification, autonomy, driver assistance as well as HMI and vehicle dynamics, Ansible Motion has revealed full details of the production Delta series S3 Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulator.

Manufactured in-house in Hethel, Norfolk, Ansible Motion’s all-new AML SMS2 Stratiform Motion System is at the heart of the Delta S3’s dynamic capabilities, delivering a best-in-class and refined physical experience. The Delta S3’s scalable architecture also means that it can be built and delivered in multiple size options, making it ideal for a broad range of automotive product development use cases such as expert driver assessments, chassis dynamics, powertrain driveability, ADAS and active safety function calibration, V2X studies and HMI design evaluations.

“Our new Delta series S3 addresses a requirement from both OEMs and Tier Ones for a highly capable and versatile driving simulator – a single virtual environment that delivers everything needed to convincingly engage real people with the automotive product development process, early and often, sometimes well before prototype vehicles exist,” says Ansible Motion’s director, Kia Cammaerts. “We have always focussed on achieving high-dynamic and high-fidelity motion for all six degrees of freedom that define a vehicle’s movement. The new Delta series S3 simulator expands on this in all areas, ensuring it’s a dependable tool that meets the demands necessary to validate future automotive technologies.”

The simulator supports car makers’ and suppliers’ desire to develop their cars more sustainably too. On announcing its purchase of the Delta series S3 simulator, Continental said it will support the company’s goal to be the most progressive tyre manufacturer in terms of environmental and socially responsible business practices. This would support its aim to reduce real-world testing by up to 100,000 kilometres per year by 2030 and use 10,000 fewer tyres for development.

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