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Sun 23 Mar 2008 12:52 PM

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GCC facing 'serious' pilot shortage

UPDATE: Passenger traffic growth and global pilot shortage placing strain on regional airlines.

The GCC is facing a 'serious' shortage of pilots that could stunt growth in the region's booming aviation industry, a global management consultancy warned on Sunday.

A.T. Kearney said massive growth in passenger traffic, up 18.1% last year, was already placing a huge strain on regional airlines, struggling to recruit enough pilots, and predicted this would only get worse over time.

The consultancy said GCC passenger traffic was expected to grow up to 8% between 2007 and 2015, compared to a global average of 5%.

The number of pilots required in the UAE alone, which boasts five airlines and where tourism is a crucial part of the Gulf state's economic growth strategy, would shoot up 75% by 2020, A.T. Kearney said.

"Investments are in place to fuel industry growth in the Middle East, but the shortage of pilots is rapidly developing into a potential constraint on growth,” Bill McKnight, associate director with A.T. Kearney’s global airline practice, said in a statement.

Gulf airlines have placed huge aircraft orders over the last year as players such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Gulf Air battle for domination of the skies.

Emirates, the largest customer for Airbus's A380 superjumbo, plans to take delivery of 246 planes worth more than $60 billion during the next few years, while Abu Dhabi-based Etihad plans to increase its fleet from 37 to 53 aircraft by 2011.

Qatar Airways expects to increase its fleet of 62 to 110 aircraft by 2013.

A.T. Kearney said the entire global aviation industry faced a pilot shortage in the coming years, but the Gulf was particularly at risk due to the lack of locally trained pilots.

The consultancy said that as the global shortage worsened, it would become increasingly difficult for Gulf carriers to attract expatriate pilots away from their home countries where opportunities would become more available.

The only solution was for airlines and flight training schools to forge partnerships, it said.

“The GCC must produce more local pilots to offset the challenges of recruiting expatriates to fill this gap,” said Maktoum Al Maktoum, director of A.T. Kearney Middle East.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways denied the industry was facing a crisis, but acknowledged demand for pilots was increasing worldwide.

Etihad told ArabianBusiness.com it was addressing the issue by establishing a cadet pilot programme for UAE nationals. The programme, which began in May, is currently training 40 Emiratis.

Alan Stealey, divisional senior vice president flight operations at Emirates, said the Dubai-based carrier was not suffering from a pilot shortage.

"We are getting very good quality pilots applying to work for us. Obviously we are aware it is a problem in some regions though. In the next year, we are looking to hire 18 per cent more pilots and we are confident we are going to achieve that," Stealey told ArabianBusiness.com.

Emirates has also been running a cadet training programme for Emiratis for more than 15 years, training hundreds of pilots.

"There are currently more than 120 Emiratis in the cadet pilot programme,” he said.

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Norman Wilcox 12 years ago

This news is quite frightening for passengers, as Arab companies will always try to get the cheapest workers they can find. We passengers already have concerns about the competence of some of the airline staff in the Middle East.