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Turkey Considers Sacking Foreign Expat Pilots and Cabin Crew to Save Local Workers

Turkey Considers Sacking Foreign Expat Pilots and Cabin Crew to Save Local Workers

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The Turkish civil aviation regulator has written to airlines in the country asking them to consider cutting foreign expat pilots, cabin crew and other aviation workers before axing Turkish nationals. The proposal comes as airlines like flag carrier Turkish Airlines and Pegasus look to downsize in the wake of the Corona crisis which continues to pummel travel demand.

The SHGM aviation authority has written to 10 Turkish airlines and other stakeholders floating the idea in a letter seen by Bloomberg (paywall). The agency is apparently seeking opinion and feedback on the plan before issuing formal guidance on the matter.

In recent years, foreign workers have ballooned to account for around 11 per cent of all crew at Turkish-registered carriers. Many airlines are, however, considering slashing employee headcounts as industry bodies estimate it could take at least another three to four years for travel demand to return to levels seen in late 2019.

Proposals to protect local workers aren’t uncommon. In late May, Fiji Airways made every single expat pilot redundant, while Qatar Airways slashed the pay of its foreign pilots by as much as 25 per cent. Local Qatari pilots do not have to endure the pay cut. Meanwhile, Emirates has axed hundreds of expat pilots and cabin crew, while protecting the jobs of local workers.

“If needed, the recruitment of foreign staff should be reduced and that of our citizens, and their income, should be protected,” the Turkish Hava-Sen labour union told the SHGM in May.

The SHGM said any reduction in foriegn workers would have a “minimal impact” on current operations and could be introduced graudaully. Last year, Turkish Airlines went on a hiring spree for foriegn pilots, poaching crew from rivals like Etihad Airways, but SHGM’s proposal would see a permanent reduction in expat staff.

United Airlines has proposed the closure of three out of four of its foreign crew bases with the loss of around 840 flight attendant jobs. The airline is pushing to permanently shutter its bases in Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Tokyo, although a decision to bar affected flight attendants from transferring to its remaining international base at London Heathrow is being resisted by the crew union.

And in April, Cathay Pacific said it would close its U.S. flight attendant bases in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles with the loss of nearly 300 jobs. The airline said the COVID-19 pandemic meant these bases were “no longer viable” in the current economic environment.

But the American Airlines flight attendant union has hit out at the airline over what it see’s as an attempt to offshore U.S. flight attendant jobs to cheaper foreign labour. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants says Latin American crew bases should be reduced in size in order to protect American jobs. The airline claims any job losses will be shared equally across all of its bases.

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