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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gulf airlines require 1,700 pilots every year

DUBAI: Airlines in the Gulf countries are facing a critical shortage of pilots to staff their growing fleets, with at least 1,700 new professionals needed each year to meet the demand. 

Aviation colleges in the six Gulf countries train less than 1,000 new pilots a year, creating a significant supply gap that threatens to stall the growth of local carriers, a report from the Saudi Aviation Flight Academy (SAFA) said. 

"The problem is that there just aren't enough. If we don't start training pilots today, we won't have the experience needed five or 10 years down the line to fly the new aircrafts, and in 20 years time we'll see a collapse [of the industry]," Captain Samir Kohli, head of safety and aerodrome compliance at SAFA said. 

Kohli told Arabia Business that around 900 pilots are required each year in Saudi Arabia alone. 

Dubai-based Emirates, Abu Dhabi's Etihad and Qatar Airways are some of the aviation industry's largest buyers of new planes with billions of dollars of aircraft on order. 

Emirates Airline , the Arab world's biggest carrier, has more than 190 aircraft on order from Boeing and Airbus worth some USD 66 billion to support its ambitious route expansion. 

The Dubai flag carrier has said it will hire more than 700 pilots over the next 18 months to keep pace with its growing fleet. 

Qatar Airways has pledged to increase its staff count by 50 per cent by 2014, while low-cost carrier FlyDubai said in March it would hire 600 pilots by 2016. 

Industry bodies fear a global shortage of pilots could affect airline safety as squeezed carriers fill slots with less experienced pilots, or turn to fast-track training schemes. 

Airlines worldwide need an average of 49,900 pilots a year from 2010 to 2030 as fleets expand, yet current training capacity is only 47,025. 

Complicating the shortage is the declining number of people applying to train as pilots. Captain Michael Bautista , head of training at Emirates Flying School , said the number of applicants has dwindled in recent years and just five per cent of trainees are locals. 

The remaining 95 per cent are expats who will often return home after qualifying. "Here in the UAE the airspace is also getting smaller because the airlines are expanding. And two thirds of the sky is restricted for military operations. 

In some airports like Abu Dhabi they also do not receive training flights from Dubai," he said. 

A spokesperson from the International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations said the shortfall could cause "standards to slip" and warned of an increase in pilot fatigue among airlines struggling to operate with fewer employees.

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