With 191 airliners on order, Emirates must recruit more than 1,000 pilots over three years...not to mention 16,000 other staff
As the Middle East's biggest aviation employer, Emirates recruits more pilots, engineers, cabin crew and support staff than the rest of the region's operators put together. With orders for 191 aircraft and growth of around a fifth each year, Emirates' appetite for talent from around the world is unlikely to let up until well into the next decade.
The company has 34,000 employees and this will reach 50,000 in three years, says Abdulaziz Al Ali, executive vice president human resources. That includes 1,960 pilots, with another 440 set to join this fiscal year, about a tenth of which will be replacements. Next year's recruitment will be similar.
With 145 nationalities among its staff and 81 among its pilots, Emirates' recruitment efforts span the globe. Although most applications - up to 30,000 a month - come via its website, the airline also holds recruitment fairs: in Houston and San Francisco in the last few months, for instance. Applicants who meet the criteria are invited - expenses paid - to Dubai for interview and assessment, although the airline has started to do some initial screening remotely.
Filtering applicants to find "the very best people" is a massive challenge in itself, says Al Ali. Those invited for interviews go through psychometric assessments and pilots undergo simulator testing where the focus is on crew resource management as much as flying ability. "We put a lot of emphasis on soft skills. Leadership skills are crucial for our pilots," says Al Ali. "They have to have an assertiveness level to deal with situations." Those rejected tend to fail because they are "lacking in team skills", adds Capt Alan Stealey, senior vice president flight operations.
The airline has got better at recruiting. "Our success rate of interviews to appointments is 60%. This has improved by 18% this year," says Al Ali. However, he maintains Emirates has done this without lowering its standards. "We are not prepared to do that. We would rather go a bit short," he says.
Other than its cadet programme for UAE nationals (see P13), Emirates recruits only experienced pilots, with a minimum of 4,000h, half of which must have been on multi-engine jets. Type rating is not important as the airline puts all its pilots through simulator training. Although it does take on direct-entry captains - with at least 8,000h and 4,000h in command - most of its pilots come in as first officers, even if they have considerable experience in the left seat. What Emirates offers is rapid promotion, says Stealey, adding: "Our time to command is lower than anywhere in the world. We are looking for people who want an early command, those that want to fly widebody, international routes and will never make it where they are."
Because of the weak dollar - which the UAE dirham is pegged to - and the stagnant US market, with its strict seniority system, Emirates is recruiting around half of its pilots from North America - most from the regional sector. "We have found a niche there. We can give regional pilots an opportunity to gain widebody command in a way they wouldn't at home," he says. "If you are a regional first officer at 40, you will probably never become a 777 captain. The strict seniority and Scope rules make it tough for these guys."
Drawing pilots - as well as cabin crew - from all over the world brings its own challenges. "There are issues around communication," says Stealey. "But we are about flexibility and pragmatism here and we work to empower people who might come from a more deferential culture. We work on making everyone understand that there is no gradient on the flightdeck."
As part of its recruitment efforts, Emirates invites candidates and spouses to Dubai, and helps them visit schools and find accommodation. "We make sure we don't just focus on cash packages," says Al Ali. "It can be agony to find schools and the right neighbourhood."
The package for pilots, says Stealey, is "unrivalled" in the region, and includes a profit-sharing scheme healthcare and accommodation - furnished or unfurnished villas for captains and first officers with families apartments for first officers without families. Perks for pilots include being picked up from home in one of Emirates' fleet of silver Audi A4s and dropped off at the operations centre.
Although all pilots are based in Dubai and salaries paid in dirhams, they are also hedged against large movements in the pilot's home currency. Despite competition from other airlines and operators, and Emirates' ambitious growth plans, Stealey insists finding the right pilots is not yet a problem. "Because we are top of the tree, we are not suffering at the moment," he says. "Although we need 18% more pilots next year, we will get them."
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