Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways has gone from strength to strength since its inception less than eight years ago, quickly establishing itself as a major player in global aviation. This year is set to be a particularly successful one for the UAE's flag-carrier, which, a few weeks ago, announced a net profit for the first time of $14 million.
High-visibility sponsorship deals such as those with Manchester City and Harlequins who respectively have been leading the UK's football and rugby premiership tables for most of the season, have raised Etihad's profile even further.
The airline's fleet will also undergo rapid expansion in the coming years as it starts to take delivery of the jaw-dropping 205-aircraft order it placed at the Farnborough air show in 2010. This year, Etihad's fleet will be bolstered by eight new aircraft, a mixture of Boeing 777s and Airbus A320s, while next year, it will receive 12 aircraft including eight Boeing 777s, three Airbus A320s and one Airbus A330.
From 2014, it will start to take delivery of its first Airbus A380s of which it has 10 on order and the first of the 41 Boeing 787-9s it will be adding to its fleet.
Hill says Etihad offers a concessionary travel scheme as generous as any business
As a result of this expansion the airline's chief operations officer Capt Richard Hill says Etihad is looking to recruit just over 200 pilots next year. He says that they will be drawn from experienced expat pilots and also from Etihad's cadet pilot recruitment stream.
"We'd principally be looking for first officers," he says, explaining that, "In the early days we took a large number of direct entry captains, but we like to recruit experienced first officers so that we can prepare them for command so we can upgrade them to captain when the time comes."
Yet with such a rapid rate of expansion, Hill says that to ensure the airline has enough experience it "always reserves the right to recruit direct entry captains if the business needs it".
He says the airline has filled all the places on its training courses until November and December 2012, but says that Etihad is continuing to interview and allocate candidates to courses as it takes around four to five months to select and recruit pilots as they tend to be on long notice periods.
In keeping with the reputation of prestige and luxury that Etihad is building, it wishes to recruit the best possible qualified pilots in the market, according to Hill, who feels generous benefits help attract pilots of the required calibre.
"That includes a lot of fringe benefits that you wouldn't get in a western airline package, such as housing," he says. He adds that in addition to a tax-free salary, the airline also offers education for pilots with school-age children, annual leave tickets and a concessionary travel scheme he believes "is as generous as any in the business".
He says that the expat lifestyle in Abu Dhabi is particularly enticing for pilots who are married with children.
"The standard of schooling is as good as anywhere else in the world and it's a very safe place for families. You can walk around the city of Abu Dhabi at night without any concerns; you can't do that in many cities in the western world," he says.
Etihad currently employs around 11 different nationalities of pilots, says Hill, adding that there are large groups of UK, European and Australian pilots among those. "That's good for people moving from an area, say South America, that they can come here and meet people who have done the same thing before," he says.
Its cadet training programme, which focuses principally on Emiratis, also accepts a small number of expats each year. Hill says that of the 250 or so cadet pilots that are either qualified to fly the A320 or going through the training process, about 50 are non-Emirati.
"We have focused our recruitment on employee's children or relatives to create a family-type atmosphere," he says, adding that the cadet scheme also takes on a number of cabin crew, with five or six former cabin crew currently enrolled in the scheme.
GA SECTOR CRUCIAL FOR HOME-GROWN PILOTS
Creating a general aviation sector in the Gulf is seen as crucial to nurturing the next generation of home-grown pilots, by encouraging young aviation enthusiasts to learn to fly or even own their own aircraft. The recent Abu Dhabi Air Expo saw the inauguration of the United Arab Emirates branch of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
AOPA UAE is being headed by Yousif Al Hammadi, the deputy general manager at Abu Dhabi's Al Bateen business airport, and is the 70th national branch of the US-based International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA).
The branch has 33 members, but the aim is to have 80 by the end of the year. The UAE has 566 private pilots, 60% of whom are foreigners, and the country has 16 airports, most of which are open to general aviation. AOPA president Craig Fuller says general aviation is growing in the region at a rate of about 20% a year.