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Pay and perks set to soar for in-demand pilots

airline pilot Creative Commons/Pxfuel
Airlines such as Riyadh Air will 'seek to pull staff from other carriers', say experts
  • Middle East airlines are competing for recruits as travel sector recovers
  • New Saudi carrier Riyadh Air is seeking to hire 700 pilots
  • A global shortfall of 80,000 pilots is forecast by 2032

Pilots are in high demand across the Middle East as the region’s airlines ramp up recruitment, according to an aviation expert.

Riyadh Air, the new Saudi carrier that aims to start flights in 2025, is seeking to take on 700 pilots.

Linus Bauer, managing director of Dubai’s Bauer Aviation Advisory, said it will have to work hard to make itself attractive.

He said it would need to offer competitive salaries and benefits, “such as comprehensive health care, pension plans, significant time off and pathways for career progression.”

“It may also consider providing additional incentives such as housing or education subsidies, especially for expatriate staff.”

John Grant, partner at UK-based consultancy Midas Aviation, agreed: “The pure attraction of Riyadh Air will be the package, the salary, tax-free benefits etc, and it will seek to pull staff from other carriers.” 

Peter Bellew, chief operating officer at Riyadh Air, said on Monday: “We are looking for the first complement of pilots to join our team, which will take us through the training period and build right up to the launch of the airline.”

Widespread pilot shortage

Beyond Riyadh Air’s recruitment drive, a report by business consultancy Oliver Wyman forecast an industry-wide shortage of almost 80,000 pilots by 2032.

This includes a shortfall of 18,000 pilots across the Middle East – 22 percent of the total. It is the most affected region outside North America.

Dubai’s Emirates airline has been on a massive recruitment drive after cutting more than 33,000 jobs during the pandemic.

In March, low-cost outfit Flydubai also announced the biggest recruitment drive in its history.

Grant said the increased competition played into the hands of pilots. “You can expect airlines with pilots to be offering loyalty bonuses for staying over five years or more and that will just escalate the price war,” he said.

He compared the situation to the transfer window in the English Premier League. “Whatever you thought was a crazy price, then just double that and over time you can see the value – or not.”

As well as the continuing impact of the Covid-19 shutdowns, the industry is also affected by pilot entry and retirement ages and evolving training requirements for new fleets.

Emirates announced plans in February to invest $135 million in a pilots training facility in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways revealed that revenues at its Etihad Aviation Training business increased 30 percent this year. It trains pilots for around 70 passenger, freight and charter airlines, as well as its own crews.

“Globally, training is in extremely high demand, and there is no end in sight,” said Paolo La Cava, CEO of Etihad Aviation Training and a senior training pilot on Airbus and Boeing jets.