In an unprecedented move, Etihad Airways has announced plans to make around 50 pilots redundant by the end of January. The news was revealed in an internal memo that was leaked by insiders at the airline. Etihad told staff it needed to reduce its flight crew headcount due to the “extremely challenging” economic climate and that it expects things to be just as bad throughout 2019.
“As you are all aware, the global economic climate continues to be extremely challenging, and the whole team at Etihad have been working very hard to manage these demands,” the memo reads.
“Although our surplus of pilots remains around 160, our aim is to reduce 50 pilots from the entire population of 2,065. The process will be concluded by the end of January 2019, with those affected being approached directly by HR by next week.”
The news might not come as a total surprise to many at the Abu Dhabi-based airline. In June last year, Etihad offered to send a number of its pilots to rival Emirates under a two-year secondment plan – at the time, Emirates was struggling with a pilot shortage, while Etihad had a surplus of pilots after cutting routes and destinations across its network.
In recent months, foreign airlines have been headhunting pilots and Turkish Airlines event sent a recruitment team to Abu Dhabi in an attempt to woo the carrier’s largely expat pilot population.
Emirati flight crew are likely to be protected from the redundancy scheme under the UAE’s Emiratisation project.
Etihad lost $1.95 billion USD in 2016 and only managed to reduce those losses to $1.52 billion in 2017. Similar sized losses are expected to be reported for 2018 despite significant cut backs. The latest memo reveals that Etihad plans to reduce costs by as much as 7-10% over the next 12-months.
“2018 was an extremely challenging year – this we know – and we are not hiding from the fact that this will continue into 2019. However, while we posted a significant loss at the end of last year, I want to reassure you that we are on the right trajectory and are getting closer to bridging the gap between operating costs and revenue,” wrote the airline’s vice president of flight operations, Sulaiman Yaqoobi.
Etihad says it wants to maintain the “quality of the Etihad Airways brand” in this latest memo, although many critics point to significant cutbacks in the onboard service proposition that have been made over the last couple of years.
In a statement provided by the airline, Etihad told us:
“Etihad continues to implement important changes to the business as part of its transformation process. This will provide vital efficiencies and ensure the business is best placed to move forward in the future.”
“As with all parts of the company, the Flight Operations department is being reviewed at a high level. However, any reduction in the workforce is likely to be small given the importance of the department to the airline’s operations.”
Tony Douglas, former head of the UK’s Ministry of Defence procurement division was brought on by Etihad last year in an attempt to turn the carrier around. Late last year, Etihad launched its “Choose Well” campaign which focuses on offering customers paid add-on’s that improve their travel experience.