Philippine Airlines (PAL) has delayed taking delivery of two Airbus A319s from GE Commercial Aviation Services (GECAS) because the flag carrier has a shortage of pilots.

PAL says the carrier was supposed to get two A319s from GECAS, one in September and another in October, but has delayed it to next year, which means it will have no more A320-family aircraft coming this year. The spokesman is unable to say if GECAS agreed to this request but says this is what the carrier plans to do.

The two A319s were the first aircraft due to arrive as part of the airline’s narrowbody re-fleeting programme, which also includes the lease of two A320s from GECAS and an order for nine A320s from the manufacturer. The aircraft on order are due to arrive from the first half of 2007 through late 2008.

The two A319s from GECAS were also significant because these two were to be the first to have PAL’s new aircraft interior - a “tropical colour scheme” that includes “aqua marine” coloured seats, says the Manila-based carrier.

A pilot shortage is the reason for the delay, confirms the airline, adding that about 75 pilots have left PAL over the past three years and it now has around 440 pilots.

“For a small airline…losing 75 pilots is quite a lot” and now “we are reaching a critical level”, says the airline, adding that :  “so far we have not had to ground aircraft but if the trend continues then yes” the airline might have to.

PAL is suffering from a pilot shortage because some aircrew have been poached by airlines in places such as India, Korea and the Middle East.

“Both [captains and first officers] have been poached but it is a little bit more on the captain side… Most of them were flying the Airbus A340 and Airbus A330 and A320 so it directly impacts on our re-fleeting programme.

“They are targeting our [highly trained] captains and first officers so it is really the cream of the PAL pilot base they are siphoning off,” says the spokesman.

PAL has already taken measures to deal with the problem, adds the spokesman, who says that about 18 months ago it started introducing new remuneration packages which “significantly” increase pilot wages.

The airline’s pilot training school has also placed an order for five trainer aircraft, doubling the school’s aircraft fleet.

“We have placed an order for five more,” he says. “They haven’t been delivered yet but the contracts have been signed.”

The spokesman says this means the school’s yearly graduate numbers – those that succeed in getting a commercial pilot’s license - will rise to 56 from 26.

PAL’s A320-family aircraft are replacing Boeing 737-300/400s which are coming off lease. The airline recently returned one 737 and now has two 737-400s and four 737-300s.

Source: Flight International