Emirates is expected to post strong profits when it announces its results next week, after a recovery from a drop in profitability in 2016 owing to a stronger dollar, global economic headwinds and the impact of onboard device related restrictions levied by the US government on flights originating out of the Middle East.
However, in line with what Emirates president Tim Clark said last month, the current shortage of pilots will weigh in on results, the airline’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer Thierry Antinori told Arabian Business, but not as dramatic as has been predicted on some aviation websites.
“The shortage of 100 to 150 pilots has made us do what we would not have normally done such as cut back on flights to Florida,” Antinori said, “but the impact is quite limited. It certainly isn’t as dramatic as some are making it out to be.”
News of frequencies being cut to other destinations are due to commercial decisions, meant to mitigate the combined impact of historically low demand for air travel during May and Ramadan occurring during the same month, according to Antinori.
“May has been the weakest month in terms of demand since the airline has existed. Ramadan this year will come in May. The combination of both will affect demand negatively,” he said.
Emirates is cutting back on flights to Heathrow in London and Bangkok in Thailand to “to avoid flying empty seats in period when we cannot stimulate the market very much,” Antinori added.
“These decisions are independent of the shortage of pilots we are facing,” he said.
Emirates had already anticipated it would need to deal with the shortage, which is why in November it opened the Emirates Flight Academy, according to Antinori.
“We are now training 170 pilots there, in addition to hiring pilots, so this shortage shouldn’t last more than a couple months.”
The pilot shortage is a combination of a global deficit of pilots and “Chinese airlines attracting pilots at very high salaries,” Antinori added.
He said onus was on Emirates to communicate to pilots that it offers a much better incentive for them to move to Dubai.
“Dubai is a great place for pilots to live with their families. If you had to choose between being an Emirates pilot from Dubai vs options in Guangzhou, Mumbai or Addis Ababa then you’d want to be here rather than shuttle back and forth with your family to a place where the children have difficulties settling in.
"We offer a very competitive package in terms of housing allowance, all-inclusive healthcare benefits as well as other benefits that arise from being a world class city,” he said.
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