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Mon 6 Jun 2011 08:37 AM

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Pilots needed as Gulf aviation boom continues

At least 1,700 pilots needed each year to meet fleet demand, shortfall raises safety fears

Pilots needed as Gulf aviation boom continues
Airlines worldwide need an average of 49,900 pilots a year from 2010 to 2030 as fleets expand
Pilots needed as Gulf aviation boom continues
Generic airplane, airport
Pilots needed as Gulf aviation boom continues
Airline pilot, generic

Gulf airlines are facing a critical shortage of pilots to staff their growing fleets, with at least 1,700 new professionals needed each year to meet demand.

Aviation colleges in the six Gulf states train less than 1,000 new pilots a year, creating a significant supply gap that threatens to stall the growth of local carriers, a report from the Saudi Aviation Flight Academy showed.

“The problem, is that there just aren’t enough,” said Captain Samir Kohli, head of safety and aerodrome compliance at SAFA. “If we don’t start training pilots today, we won’t have the experience needed five or 10 years down the line to fly the new aircrafts, and in 20 years time we’ll see a collapse [of the industry].”

Some 900 pilots are required each year in Saudi Arabia alone, Kohli said.

Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are some of the aviation industry’s largest buyers of new planes with billions of dollars of aircraft on order.

Emirates Airline, the Arab world’s biggest carrier, has more than 190 aircraft on order from Boeing and Airbus worth some $66bn to support its ambitious route expansion.

The Dubai flag carrier has said it will hire more than 700 pilots over the next 18 months to keep pace with its growing fleet. Qatar Airways has pledged to increase its staff count by 50 percent by 2014, while low-cost carrier flydubai said in March it would hire 600 pilots by 2016.

Airlines worldwide need an average of 49,900 pilots a year from 2010 to 2030 as fleets expand, yet current training capacity is only 47,025. Complicating the shortage is the declining number of people applying to train as pilots.

Captain Michael Bautista, head of training at Emirates Flying School, said the number of applicants has dwindled in recent years and just five percent of trainees are locals. The remaining 95 percent are expats who will often return home after qualifying. 

“Here in the UAE the airspace is also getting smaller because the airlines are expanding. And two thirds of the sky is restricted for military operations. In some airports like Abu Dhabi they also do not receive training flights from Dubai,” he said.

“It would help if there was more flexibility of operations in and out of each emirate.”

Industry bodies fear a global shortage of pilots could affect airline safety as squeezed carriers fill slots with less experienced pilots, or turn to fast-track training schemes.

A spokesperson from the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations said the shortfall could cause “standards to slip” and warned of an increase in pilot fatigue among airlines struggling to operate with fewer employees.

SAFA’s Captain Kohli referred to the Air France 447 crash in 2009, which went down en route to Paris to Brazil killing all 228 passengers and crew on board.

Preliminary findings from the plane’s black box recordings suggest pilot error may have been cause of the fatal crash, after crew became distracted by faulty airspeed indicators and failed to deal properly with other vital systems.

“You had a small failure of the machine, but it wasn’t a catastrophic failure,” said Kohli. “But the pilot that was in control when this happened was the least experienced one and the youngest of the lot.”

The investigation remains ongoing.

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Sandy 8 years ago

Being a pilot for over 20 years, the shortage of qualified pilots is clear. The career path is not very attractive the first 10-15 years, with expensive training, poor pay and appalling working conditions. While the complete package in the region's larger carriers is acceptable, I cannot see why anyone, young person of at least average intelligence and social skills would enter this profession. Virtually no social life, no or very little influence over your schedule (that rules your life), medical and simulator checks at least twice every year that might result in a loss of job and income are some of the negative aspects. Most of my non-flying colleagues here in GCC make similar or more money in jobs that allows for family and seasons celebrations, planned holidays and for studies, sport and other scheduled after work activities. None of them have increased their productivity with 25-40% over the last years as most pilots in the region have.

Sandy 8 years ago

Unfortunately, I think that Sully "the Miracle on the Hudson" was completely correct in his testimony to the US congress:
I still (want) to believe that an airline pilot is still one of the more qualified jobs one can do, but the recent times change of attitude towards most professionals and professions, reducing everything to a bean counting game. Money is king, and if we can squeeze out more productive hours, we will. Earlier time limitations have now become targets in producing cost efficient schedules, maximizing profits. When questioning the employer about the negative impact of recent rostering policies on flight safety, the answer is "we can afford an accident"... has been given. Well, tell that to any surviving family members.
- It is easy to buy an airplane, harder to keep it safely flying...

Ad 8 years ago

May be airlines should start investing in training and a bit of relaxation in requirements etc.

Airtraveller 8 years ago

investment in training young people : yes!
relax requirements : No!

Billy 8 years ago

Sandy my heart bleeds for you. I wish I had 3 days off every time I had worked a shift! I have lived here in Dubai for 20 years and know very well first hand the life a pilot leads and it is a very long way from the picture you paint. Simulator checks twice a year - try being a sales person or anyone else with monthly targets in this market - they face the same prospect of loosing their job but not twice a year like you - 12 times a year! It is a highly skilled job for sure but the salary and perks are phenominal when compared to more down to earth jobs. I have heard these bleatings many times from pilots but you still choose stay in the job and enjoy a very luxurious lifestyle. If you don't like it - quit.

bus driver 8 years ago

Is this not a sort of contradiction?

Scorp 8 years ago

@AD. Investing in training YES, relaxation in requirement, NO THANK YOU! Keep the standards high so that my children and family will be safer when they fly. NEVER relax the requirements!!!

Peter Johnston 8 years ago

I fear this is going to be the biggest challenge to the impressive expansion plans of Emirates, Qatar and Etihad ... if they already struggle to find the right people (I'm sure they have many applicants but not so many get accepted), they will either drop their selection criteria (which may be a disaster for them in the longer term) or have to invest heavily in training-from-scratch their own cockpit crew and provide better benefits and work-life balance to attract more candidates. Maybe if they continue to squeeze other airlines with their capacity, we will finally see some smaller (and bigger !!) flag-carriers go under (a good thing !!) and these pilots may not have many choices but to join the growing fleets.

Sandy 8 years ago

And on a final note, no one I know get 3 days off after a shift. As mentioned before, due to the expansion, everyone is working to what previously was limits in working hours, now effectively targets. That means a normal 30 day month of 8 days off, mostly not on weekends. Luckily the GCAA has not accepted to change the yearly (12 months running) maximum limit on flying hours (yet?), which means when that when we are getting to close to that limit, most time will be spent on standby, simulator or possibly forced vacation...

Now, one of the few advantages I find with our irregular work hours, is that I can do my grocery shopping on weekdays, if I happen to be off.

Sandy 8 years ago

Dear Billy,
Do I sense just a bit of cynicism/jealousy in your reply?
1. Firstly, did you read the Sully testimony?
2. How many Xmas', New years, family birthdays, weddings etc have you missed because of work lately? I have missed virtually all...
3. Monthly target - is under the direct influence by you, not a medical issue that make you lose your license.
4. Luxury lifestyle - well projected historical image but not reality today. Try a night turnaround leaving home at midnight, back at 2 pm. Not exactly luxurious, imho. We do stay at good hotels sometimes, but that is only to provide for good sleep and/or rest, relieving he employer of any responsibility in case of incidents/accidents.
5. Leave it if you don't like it - that is what we hear all the time from our employer, now from you as well. The issue is after passing 50 where can I go, what can I do? I am a specialized professional, stuck in a system with strict seniority.