Sam Sayani, second-in-command at Pakistan International Airlines, may have tempered his words to spare his hosts' blushes. But his message at a session entitled Competing For People at last week's MRO Middle East conference and exhibition in Dubai was clear: stop poaching our people just because you can.

It must be frustrating for PIA. Teeming Pakistan has a good education system that provides plenty of raw material for the airline to create competent maintenance technicians. PIA spends five years training them fully. Yet once they receive their certificates, many are lured to the Gulf, where well-funded MROs offer better rewards. A similar problem affects other poorer countries across the wider region, from Jordan to Ethiopia.

Wealthy Gulf states - with big ambitions and small populations - will always buy in talent as required, from chief executives to the guy with the toolbox in the hangar. And a flexible global labour market benefits us all ultimately. But it does create a brain drain that damages growth prospects of some of their neighbours.

What can be done about it? Perhaps the answer is a football-style contract system, where rich clubs tempt away the best players with a promise of higher wages and better prospects. But the team that has invested in developing that player gets some reward in the form of a transfer fee. Could it work in MRO? Unlikely, but airlines like PIA would probably welcome it.

Source: Flight International