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UAE aviation training firm cashes in on pilot demand

Etihad Aviation Training has nine flight simulators covering popular Airbus and Boeing models CAE
Etihad Aviation Training has nine flight simulators covering popular Airbus and Boeing models
  • Etihad Aviation Training reports 30% increase in revenues
  • Shortfall of 18,000 pilots in Middle East expected by 2032
  • Company trains pilots and crew for Etihad and 70 other airlines

A pressing need for airlines to requalify pilots as global air travel recovers has sent business soaring for Etihad Aviation Training, with revenues up 30 percent this year.

In addition to training and maintaining aircrews for Etihad Airways, the training business supports 70 other passenger, freight and charter operators, as well as government VIP fleets.

Many attend because their own training facilities cannot keep pace.  

“Globally, training is in extremely high demand, and there is no end in sight,” said Captain Paolo La Cava, the Abu Dhabi company’s CEO and a senior training pilot on Airbus and Boeing jets.

La Cava said that during the pandemic, training for candidates residing in the UAE continued without interruption.

“As soon as travel bans were lifted and quarantine requirements reduced, we resumed training for international customers,” he said.

“The academy was instantly filled to maximum capacity again – busier than before the pandemic.”

Etihad Aviation Training was established in 2013 to train Etihad’s pilots and cabin crews, as well as 20 other airlines, including some that the carrier had invested in.

Its parent company was absorbed last year by Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company, ADQ, and, as part of the new strategy, all units were turned into independent profit centres.  

Shortfall across Middle East

A recent 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 across the Middle East – 22 percent of the total. It is the most affected region outside North America.

Demand for training is so high that Etihad Aviation Training is planning to expand its Abu Dhabi academy. It is also considering new simulator facilities in fast-growing markets such as India.

Other regional airlines are also ramping up training. Dubai’s Emirates earlier this year announced plans to acquire additional training aircraft.

It also revealed a $135 million plan to build facilities to train pilots for new Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X jets, the first of which are due to enter service next year.

Geoff Murray, a co-author of the Oliver Wyman report, said global demand was high in two areas – primary training for new pilots and requirements for existing crews.

These include regular refresher training, transitioning from one aircraft type to another, upgrading pilots from first officers to captains, or qualifying new recruits to meet local licensing standards.

“Part of the problem is how rapidly the aviation ecosystem is recovering in the region, which historically is not a big source of airline pilots,” Murray said.

The market for independent training providers was strong and would remain so in the Middle East, given the scale of growth underway and proposed across the region and in neighbouring markets, he added.

Order books

“The Middle East carriers also have monster order books for new aircraft,” he said, adding: “With all the growth taking place we anticipate the shortages will be felt in a meaningful way.”

Etihad Aviation Training has secured training accreditations or recognition from other international agencies, including Europe’s EASA, and regulatory bodies in Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and India, enabling it to train pilots from those markets.

Although Etihad Airways remains the core customer, it currently accounts for just 40 percent of the company’s activity.

This is expected to rise as the airline progresses plans to double its fleet and treble passenger journeys by 2030, returning to a steep growth strategy it abandoned five years ago.

The company operates nine full-motion flight simulators – three each for Airbus A320s and Boeing 787s, the two types in highest demand, plus Airbus A350, A380 and Boeing 777 units. It is considering adding more types.

The academy also has eight fixed-base devices for pilot training, and full-size cabin mock-ups, emergency simulators, and facilities for cabin crew training.

“Flight simulation has reached impressive quality,” said La Cava.

“The realism and effectiveness of our modern training devices seems difficult to exceed.

“But future development of simulation, like metaverse or virtual reality, still has a long way to go before having a tangible operational effectiveness in the crew training environment.”

La Cava said each aircraft needs two or more pilots and the age of pilotless planes was a long way off.

“Autonomous aircraft are still far off,” he said. “The transition will take time to be accepted among travellers.

“Even the introduction of a single-pilot operation, or completely self-flying machines, will necessitate specific training which requires the expertise of approved training organisations.”

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