A few weeks ago, we reported on comments from the President of Emirates, Tim Clark who said his airline was “a tad short in pilots.” Specifically, Clark, who was one of the original architects of what is now one of the world’s largest airline’s, said the carrier needed around 100-150 more pilots to meet demand.
At the time, Clark didn’t appear too concerned when he made the comments at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. He suggested the airline would have enough pilots by September, maybe October at the latest. Otherwise, business was looking good – even ticket sales for the tricky U.S. market had “rebounded”.
In fact, while Emirates is still to release its financials for last year, all signs suggest the airline has performed well. Even cabin crew are set to receive a bonus for the first time in two years – currently expected to be worth the equivalent of three-weeks of wages.
But it now looks like Clark’s optimism may have been somewhat misplaced. There are reports, including from well-known aviation commentator Alex Macheras, that suggest Emirates will be forced to ground around 46 aircraft over the next few months – due largely because of the ongoing pilot shortage.
At the moment, it will be the airline’s Boeing 777 fleet that will be most affected but some of Emirates’ iconic Airbus A380 superjumbo’s will also be grounded. Estimates suggest the parked planes will account for 18% of all the planes in the Emirates fleet.
In April, reports claim that 11 Boeing 777’s and one Airbus A380 have been parked at the huge Dubai World Central International Airport to the south of the city. Next month, 14 of the 777’s and six A380’s will be grounded and in June, there are expected to be 11 parked 777’s and three A380’s left idle at DWC.
The popular ‘One Mile at a Time‘ blog has worked out the cost of parking 46 aircraft could set Emirates back $46 million per month.
Emirates has already announced a reduction in its flight schedule – in part as a way to deal with the pilot crisis. Flights to London Heathrow, Bangkok, Oslo, Kuala Lumpur and Hamburg are all set to be reduced over the next few months. Services to U.S. destinations, including Fort Lauderdale and Orlando are also set to be curtailed.
A spokesperson for the airline says the changes were prompted by a “routine operational review” to ensure “capacity is deployed to best serve customer demand across our global network.”
The question is, how has Emirates found itself in this mess in the first place? Sure, it’s not quite on the same scale as the mass cancellations that low-cost Irish airline, Ryanair announced last year (due to a major pilot rostering mistake) but there are concerns about a lack of planning.
Reports suggest pilots at the Dubai-based airline have been leaving in droves over the last few years. The mainly expat pilot community is being lured away by attractive packages offered by rapidly expanding airlines in China and Asia – while the salary and conditions at Emirates just haven’t kept up with demand.
The airline has recently embarked on a huge recruitment drive with recruiters travelling around the world in a bid to attract qualified and experienced flight crew. They promise a large tax-free salary, free accommodation in Emirates’ purpose-built villas and chauffeur driven transport to and from the airport.
Emirates has also been showcasing its commitment to gender quality of late – putting female pilots front and centre of recent publicity campaigns. In November, Emirates also opened its own Flight Academy in a bid to recruit and train the next generation of Emirati pilots.