One of the biggest problems for fast-growing Gulf-based business aviation operators in recent years has been recruiting and retaining experienced pilots.

The sun-soaked, family-friendly and tax-free lifestyle of the region has always lured expatriates. But high prices, shortages of accommodation and horrendous traffic, especially in Dubai, have removed much of the lustre.

Lay-offs of airline pilots throughout the world will adjust the supply and demand equation in the operators' favour temporarily. However, attracting pilots with the suitable flying experience and social skills to work for high-end business aviation operations remains a challenge for many, and operators often have to dig deep to provide the sort of remuneration packages expected by the best candidates.

"We have seen some easing, but this doesn't mean we are getting them cheaply," says Faris Deeb, chief executive of Abu Dhabi operator Prestige Jet. "I need the best of the best."

One of the biggest advantages a business aviation operator with a mixed fleet has over most airlines is that it can offer pilots the opportunity to move up through the types.

"I would always rather upgrade someone to a larger jet and get a person in at the bottom. It means we can keep people we like and keep them motivated," says Paras Dhamecha of Dubai-based Empire Aviation.

The job also tends to be more varied, with pilots going to Zurich one day and a remote part of Russia the next. It is also more customer-focused. Unlike anonymous airline pilots in the cockpit, business aviation pilots are expected to be highly visible ambassadors for the brand.

A huge problem, however, is pilots flitting between operators, despite their work permits contracting them to a single employer. Deeb believes the Middle East Business Aviation Association needs to take a lead by asking its members to sign a "gentleman's agreement" not to poach pilots from each other.

Source: Flight International