Etihad Pilots Will Soon Be Operating Emirates Flights

For the past couple of months, Emirates has had a pilot shortage. This has caused the airline to park planes at Dubai World Centralcut routes, and reduce pilot staffing on some routes. Emirates pilots are leaving the airline to work at other airlines (especially in China) that offer more attractive compensation packages.

There’s a global pilot shortage at the moment, and other airlines offer more pay and allow commuter contracts, while Emirates requires all of their pilots to live in Dubai. What they’re offering their pilots just isn’t as compelling as it used to be.

Emirates’ president has indicated that the airline is just a “tad short” on pilots at the moment, and that they should be fine by this fall. That’s largely because they have cadet pilots that are being trained right now. The problem is that this doesn’t address their long-term issue, which is that many pilots are still leaving, so do they just plan on having a revolving door of pilots forever?

On some level it’s also concerning that presumably over time the quality of pilots will decrease. That’s not to say that a cadet who just graduated doesn’t know what they’re doing, but rather there’s something to be said for experience. I expect the average number of hours of experience among Emirates pilots will be decreasing over the coming years.

It looks like Emirates has now found their latest source of pilot, and they’re just about 100km down Sheikh Zayed Road. As we know, Etihad has been suffering financially and is greatly decreasing their growth plans, so they’ve been offering pilots leave without pay. They’re now adding another option to the mix.

Etihad is giving their pilots the opportunity to go work for Emirates for a period of two years. Per a letter sent to pilots:

The appropriate management of pilot resources is a priority for Fleet Operations and something we constantly review.

Following the introduction of the “leave without pay” programme, we now have an opportunity for some pilots to take up a secondment opportunity with Emirates Airlines.

The opportunity will see these pilots that successfully complete the Emirates selection process, seoncded to Emirates for two years, upon completion of line training. During the secondment period:

  • You will be placed on leave of absence from Etihad Airways
  • You will receive your salary and full benefits from Emirates package
  • You will continue to retain your seniority at Etihad during your leave of absence

Emirates and Etihad are both government owned airlines, though they’re owned by separate governments. Given the history between the ruling families, there’s usually a lot of pride involved, and in a way I’m surprised Etihad is even offering this.

At the same time, this is a mutually beneficial solution. Etihad was putting pilots on unpaid leave, but there are still costs associated with that, as they still receive certain benefits while on leave. With this solution, Emirates can get new pilots, while Etihad can save money compared to putting pilots on leave, not to mention this gives pilots an interesting alternative to unpaid leave. .

I imagine some pilots will be taking the airlines up on this offer, and I’m curious what this looks like in two years. Technically this contract is for a period of two years, though I don’t see Etihad’s financial situation getting much better (and further growth on their part is unlikely). Furthermore, I don’t see Emirates’ pilot shortage getting much better, since pilots are continuing to resign.

So if you take an Emirates flight in a couple of months and the pilot accidentally welcomes you onboard an Etihad flight, now you know why.

Comments

  1. Truly sad. Emirates should really treat their employees better. Hopefully this gets resolved. Great post Lucky! Btw, where do you get this type of info?

  2. @Lucky I’m curious, do you know by any chance which EY pilots are leaving (a380, 777 or both)?

  3. “There’s a global pilot shortage at the moment” fake news. There is no such thing as a shortage. Emirates simply doesnt want to pay the (new) market rates for pilots. They got bitchslapped by the invisible hand.

  4. @ Advaith — The email was forwarded to me from some sources, so I saw the “official” email sent to pilots, with Etihad letterhead.

  5. @ Ben Holz — No clue, since they’re just starting the process. It could even be pilots on other planes, and Emirates will train them on the 777 or A380. I’m sure we’ll find out soon.

  6. @ W — That’s still several years off, so I suspect that’s not part of the scope of this.

  7. That’s indeed an interesting turn of events. Given the unpaid leave, wouldn’t pilots just look for other jobs instead of sitting around without pay, or are there clauses in their contracts that prohibit that? In this era of a shortage of pilots, i don’t see why those pilots choose to stay with Etihad instead of getting jobs elsewhere.

    Good for Emirates. And when did conditions at EK get that bad. A few years ago all seemed to be well.
    Is this a sign of the eventual merger of both airlines?

  8. @Anon

    There’s indeed a shortage of pilots at the moment. Look no further that Lufthansa’s subsidiary Eurowings or Laudamotion that has planes but no pilots to fly them! That’s a point that the airline (EW) admitted. No fake news here.

  9. @ Sam — I think the assumption for pilots getting unpaid leave is that they’d get pilot jobs elsewhere during that period. In many cases pilots end up getting jobs elsewhere and never return to the original airline, especially in cases where the opportunity for unpaid leave continues. This allows them to get the best of both worlds, as they receive select benefits while on unpaid leave without having to work or live there.

    These pilot issues are all pretty recent.

  10. @ Sam. Some of this is the quirks of UAE labour law, whereby your entitlements are different if you resign versus if you are made redundant. To over simplify, If you put someone on leave and they quit then under various scenarios you owe them less money than if you actively release them. On the non-cynical side it also allows pilots to retain residency, healthcare entitlement, etc, all of which are linked to employment, for a transition period. In the UAE, once you are let go you have 30 days to leave the country, which can be hugely disruptive, particularly to those who have their families within them in country. An unpaid leave buffer is a common way of letting those who wish to leave, and are able to do so, proceed in a less time pressured way.

  11. “So if you take an Emirates flight in a couple of months and the pilot accidentally welcomes you onboard an Etihad flight, now you know why.”

  12. @Sam, there are qualified pilots somewhere in the world. LH/EW simply need to increase what they pay and those pilots will work for them. Econ 101.

  13. As someone who is unfamiliar with the local politics of the UAE I was wondering if anyone can explain how two airlines in the same country can be owned by two different governments? Thanks in advance!

  14. @Al

    I live in the UAE. It’s like a federation which means each emirate is a state and has a local government. So like for instance in Russia, some states have its own airline. I lived in Bashkiria, home of the defunct Bashkiria Airlines. In UAE there are three Emirates with own Airlines, Dubai (Emirates and Flydubai), Sharjah (Air Arabia) and Abu Dhabi (Etihad). Prior to Etihad, Abu Dhabi was one of the partners of Gulf Air (Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Bahrein) now owned only by Bahrein.

  15. ……

    Etihad is very much headed in the right direction. Last year their losses were higher and yet they made money in core operations (flying passengers), it was the Equity Partners that condemned them. The weakest partners are now out of the game. Last year also had the US electronics ban and the initial disruptive Qatar crisis impact. They were also locked in a detente with the US3. Not to mention the biggest bane to EY routes in recent past has been Air India’s direct flights.

    All of these headwinds are now easing. Air India will be embarking on its own scaling back exercise. US3 detente has eased. Electronics ban is gone. Qatar crises intial disruption is gone (And is squeezing Qatar far worse than Etihad). Air Berlin is gone. Alitalia is the lead in the new zombie movie.

    Etihad really isn’t imploding, its streamlining and becoming healthier.

    The two governments aren’t locked in a pride war, they co-operate very very closely all the time (its the norm, not the exception). Co-ordinating operations requires no merger and hence renders a merger meaningless. FlyDubai and Emirates are practically merged yet aren’t on paper. The Executive officers have (rightly) observed that mergers cause more issues than possible benefits. When the ownership is the same or is co-operating and aligned, the merger holds no meaning. These aren’t publicly listed companies with divergent holdings and only a common shareholder wealth goal. This is being looked at from completely the wrong lens.

    Etihad can cut back on the routes where they have low load factors and Emirates has heavy capacity on and focus on the gaps in the network given their greater fleet diversity. There is a gap between Emirates and FlyDubai capability and capacity.

    The ME market is about to get more crowded as Oman Air comes up with a strong challenge supported by a good hub. Not to mention Saudi, eventually they will throw their hat in the ring in a very strong way (beyond current Saudia and FlyNas efforts) and have orders of magnitude larger domestic demand to leverage in addition to a global guaranteed travel ‘trump’card in the way of religious tourism to Mecca/Medina. (I had to sneak Trump into the comment in some way to maintain the recent theme of the comments section).

    Do all of these currently have a mutual rival? Yes, Qatar Airways.

    You’re looking at the wrong airline if you want to find long term issues.

    Re: Pilot shortages
    It is absolutely sustainable for Emirates to resolve their flight crew head count issues long term without blowing their payroll. It simply requires a demographic transition (the sort that their cabin crew has experienced a couple of times before). Right now (or in immediate past) it has been very heavy on North American and European pilots. The economic conditions have improved immensely for this pool back in their home countries. However South Asia, South American and Asian (non-Chinese) pilots still would regard Emirates as their employer of choice. Furthermore, in a country where local participation in the Private Sector is close to nil and an identified area to rectify by the government, Emirates is one of the few employers (flight crew specifically) to be able to match pay and prestige to government sectors and hence attract local Emirati talent. I absolutely believe the CEO when he says this is a transient disruption. The demographics of the pilot pool will change, that’s all (and not for the first time either).

  16. Not a single mention of this on either EK Not EY Forums in FT. Kind of an indicator of how many frequent flyers actually read your blog?

  17. @Mike
    1. Is that really neccessary?
    2. That’s not really a sign of anything
    3. Even if it were, and it were mostly amateur FFs, rather than experienced ones, does it really matter?

    Honestly dude, take your negativity elsewhere

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