Emirates may look to Etihad, Norwegian Air to help fill pilot gap

Dubai airline recruited 52 pilots last month, the highest number since August 2016, according to Emirates internal memo

United Arab Emirates, February 7, 2019

Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul airline, may feed its appetite for new pilots with recruits from Etihad Airways and cash-strapped discounter Norwegian Air Shuttle, according to an internal memo from the Gulf carrier obtained by Bloomberg News.

Hong Kong Airlines has also contacted Dubai-based Emirates about opportunities to temporarily transfer some cockpit crew, according to the document. Pilots at the unit of beleaguered HNA Group are Airbus SE-rated, meaning they could be trained to fly Emirates’ A380 superjumbos.

“The current situation with several airlines in financial difficulty globally leaves Emirates in a good position to be sourcing and selecting good-quality pilots,” the memo says. It said the airline recruited 52 pilots last month, the highest number since August 2016, and that the number of viable applications it’s receiving “is higher than the number of candidates that can be invited.”

Emirates declined to comment on the communication, which was dated January 29 and appeared to be a meeting report. A spokeswoman said there are sufficient pilots for current operations, though the airline will “continue to welcome qualified candidates.”

Norwegian Air said it’s not uncommon for members of any company’s workforce to seek opportunities elsewhere. Hong Kong Airlines couldn’t be reached during the Chinese New Year holiday, while Abu Dhabi-based Etihad didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Emirates faces an annual hiring challenge to meet the needs of its expanding global network. President Tim Clark said last April that there would be a shortfall of 100 to 150 flight crew over 2018’s busy summer travel season. According to the memo, 499 crew have been deemed eligible to join from this coming April through the end of 2019.

Applications from Norwegian Air and Etihad have been spurred by redundancies at the airlines, according to the Emirates memo.

Etihad last June offered captains and first officers a two-year secondment, or temporary transfer, to Emirates. In January, it revealed plans to cut 50 pilot posts as it cancels jet orders and shrinks operations to stem losses.

The Emirates memo said Hong Kong Air has identified a 10 percent surplus in pilot numbers. The carrier, whose debt-laden owner HNA is offloading $20 billion in assets, is being sued by a Macau-based lender for failing to pay $20 million in principal and interest, according to a court filing last month.