Etihad now has to be taken seriously

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Etihad is no longer the new kid on the block. Founded less than seven years ago as the "flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates", many saw the venture at the time as an misguided attempt by Abu Dhabi to mirror the success of Emirates, based just 150km (93 miles) along the highway.

However, the airline has in that short period established a fleet of 53 aircraft and plans to be operating more than 90 aircraft by 2015. It serves 63 cities and has won numerous industry awards for its cabin service, and with a new headquarters and training centre next to Abu Dhabi airport finally has all the trappings of an established airline.

A 205-aircraft commitment at the 2008 Farnborough air show - the largest in history - comprising firm orders for 55 Airbuses and 45 Boeings, plus a total of 105 options from both manufacturers, showed the industry that Etihad meant business. "That really helped put us on the map and our image and reputation grew," says chief operations officer Capt Richard Hill.

etihad 777-300er, etihad
 © Etihad

A lull in deliveries means recruitment has slowed down in 2010 - only four Airbus A330-300s will join the fleet this year. It expects to take on 70 pilots this year, 60 of whom are already in place or have been offered contracts. However, the airline is preparing to add 150 to 200 pilots a year to its 900-strong flightcrew contingent over the following two years as the Farnborough aircraft begin to arrive. By 2015 it plans to be employing 1,700 pilots.

Although the bulk of its pilot recruits are experienced expatriates, perhaps more than any big Middle Eastern airline Etihad puts the focus on enlisting locally born flightcrew as part of an Emiritisation programme encouraged by its government shareholder. A quarter of its new pilots are cadets who go on to fly its Airbus narrowbodies.

Although the bulk of those completing the two year course - 150 at any one time - are national school-leavers, Etihad also launched in 2008 a cadet scheme for non-Emiratis. So far three intakes of 12 (mostly graduates) have gone through the course, with the earliest arrivals now completing conversion courses as second officers after gaining their pilot's licences. Although the foreign student scheme has survived the downturn, its future is uncertain. "It's on the back burner," says Hill. "Our primary focus is Emiratisation." Etihad also runs technical engineering and graduate management development programmes for UAE citizens.

Other than cadets, Etihad - like Emirates - only recruits first officers rather than direct entry captains. Although in the airline's early days, promotion to the left hand seat could be expected within 18 months, time to command is now more like three years. "It is what you would expect with a gradually maturing airline," says Hill.

Etihad provides a full package alongside the tax-free salary, which incorporates accommodation and an educational allowance for children. And as with Emirates in Dubai, extolling the lifestyle in Abu Dhabi is part of the tactics Etihad uses to lure pilots to the airline. And while, the UAE capital may not offer Dubai's bright lights, beachfront and celebrity culture, a number of developments - including a Formula 1 racetrack, luxury hotels and world class art galleries - are dispelling the city's image as a rather conservative outpost. With good schools and more villa complexes being built, many believe Abu Dhabi has the edge on Dubai as somewhere to bring up a family.