Just over a quarter century ago, somewhat marginalised by the region's main network carrier, Gulf Air, Dubai's ambitious sheikhs decided they needed a national airline to help drive the economic growth they had earmarked for their small Arabian port.

Today, Dubai is one of the world's mega cities and the airline they created, Emirates, is an industry giant, with a fleet of 170 widebody airliners, including the biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s, connecting 122 cities in 72 countries with the desert metropolis.

Despite the financial crisis which shook the world and Dubai in 2009, Emirates - state-owned but unsubsidised - has emerged unscathed, posting net profits up by over 50% to $1.5 billion in its most recent financial year and carrying 31.4 million passengers and 1.8 million tonnes of cargo. Recent destinations include Buenos Aires, Lisbon and Washington DC and - with a backlog of 230 aircraft - the carrier continues to steadily expand its fleet.

"In 2012, we have 35 aircraft arriving and are taking 11 aircraft out of the fleet, so the net effect is that we have 24 aircraft coming," says Emirates divisional senior vice-president flight operations Capt Alan Stealey. "We are talking about one Airbus A380 a month and the rest is made up of a combination of Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A330s."

This means Emirates will have a requirement this year for approximately 500 new pilots, says Stealey. And although Emirates has traditionally only recruited first officers, regardless of rank or experience at their former airline, this year it will be bending its own rules. However, this is a catch-up effect from the dip in its recruitment during the financial crisis.

"For the first time in many years, we're looking to recruit direct entry captains and that's purely a function of the fact that we took no pilots on, no first officers on in the 2008-2009 timeframe," he explains, adding: "We have a requirement that we do not promote internally until a first officer has been with us for three years, but we reached a gap and now we're looking outside for well-qualified direct entry captains."

Emirates tends to recruit around the world, holding career fairs in a number of cities where applicants are screened. Those who pass the assessment are invited to Dubai for further interviews and tests, but only about half of those who reach this stage are taken on.

Emirates revels in the diversity of its pilot community and Stealey stresses that it is important that pilots fit in and find it easy to work across cultural boundaries. "We're looking for people that are team players, that's most important," he says. "We have a very cosmopolitan group of pilots here, with a total of 88 nationalities on the flight deck."

He adds: "We're looking at those people who can adapt quickly and are flexible. They must have the right qualifications in terms of experience, but they must also pass our very tough selection process, which includes simulator tests, psychometric checks and interview and assessment centres."

One of the big advantages of joining Emirates, says Stealey, is the pace of promotion, with first officers on average waiting just five years for their first command. This means many pilots joining early in their career could expect to find themselves in the left-hand seat while still in their 30s. Apart from exceptional circumstances, Emirates keeps its Airbus and Boeing pilot cadres apart, although flying the A380 - it currently operates 21 with 69 on order - remains a major draw and only pilots with several years' experience with the airline are considered for the cockpit of the world's biggest airliner.

Another of the appeals of working for Emirates is the attractive package - basic remuneration for first officers is over $7,900 (tax-free) a month, while captains enjoy a basic monthly salary of around $11,200. There are also perks such as subsidised accommodation, an education allowance for up to three children and transport to and from work. However, the airline also likes to sell the Dubai lifestyle to potential recruits looking to relocate to the Gulf city.

"The way of life is so easy and relaxed here that if you can't adapt to this you probably can't adapt to much," he says.

Source: Flight International