Plane manufacturer Boeing estimates that within 20 years, the industry will need 498,000 new commercial airline pilots and 556,000 new maintenance technicians. Finding enough skilled workers to meet that demand isn't going to be easy.
Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services, says there is an "urgent demand for competent aviation personnel."
"This is a global issue, requiring industry-wide collaboration and innovative solutions," she says.
Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest U.S. pilots' union, adds that strong oversight by governments and trade groups is needed to ensure proper training.
"If you don't have a safe operation, then you're not going to have customers," Moak says.
Countries must also invest in the right infrastructure. There needs to be proper radar coverage, runway landing lights and beacons and skilled airport fire and rescue teams, says Todd Curtis, director of the Airsafe.com Foundation. Developing regions, he adds, also currently don't have enough airports that planes can divert to in case of an emergency.
And when there is a crash with survivors, having hospitals nearby with advanced trauma centers helps to lower the number of fatalities. Nearly a third of all accidents since 1959 where the plane was destroyed still didn't have any deaths, according to Boeing.
Technological improvements are also helping to lower the accident rate. Cockpits now come with systems that automatically warn if a jet is too low, about to hit a mountain or another plane. Others detect sudden wind gusts that could make a landing unsafe.
The next generation of technology promises to help prevent even more accidents. Honeywell Aerospace launched a new system 18 months ago that gives pilots better awareness about severe turbulence, hail and lightning. The company is also developing a system to improve pilots' vision in stormy weather: an infrared camera will let them see runways through thick clouds earlier than the naked eye would.
"At the end of the day, we're a safety net. We're there to help the flight crew," says Ratan Khatwa, senior chief engineer for human factors at Honeywell.
The catch: While these advances would help a generation of new pilots fly more safely, not all airlines are willing to pay for the upgrades.
"The industry is very opposed, for cost reasons, to retrofits," says James E. Hall, former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "You have a situation of the haves and the have-nots."
Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.