Staff emigrate for better pay and conditions as professional training industry faces threat from policy changes
Russian airlines are facing a pilot-shortage crisis because the number applying for jobs and training has plunged to a tenth of what it used to be and the industry is growing in size, according to a detailed study published in the Moscow Times. As a result, the average pilot age and the number of flying hours per crewmember are both rising rapidly, with low aircrew pay cited as the principal reason.
The average annual pay of a commercial pilot in Russia is $9,500. Oleg Prikhodko, the head of the Bashkirian Airlines pilot union, says: "Pilots are leaving airlines, and those who stay are treated like slaves." An airline captain identified only by the Moscow Times as Sergei says he moonlights as a taxi driver at the end of his rostered flying day for a domestic airline.
Miroslav Boichuk, president of the Cockpit Personnel Association, says: "If [industry growth] continues at such a pace, in two to three years we will not have enough pilots to meet demand."
Professional training in Russia, including for airline pilots, is still free to the trainees, but there are no longer queues outside the flying training school gates, the newspaper reports Valery Zaorov, head of the Sasovo flight school in Ryasan, 170km (105 miles) south east of Moscow, as saying. He adds that the number of trainees has fallen to a tenth of what it was in Soviet times, and that his school is training 25 pilots a year when it used to be training up to 500. Pilots are leaving for foreign airlines including Ryanair, Korean Air and Vietnam Airlines, which all pay more - some many times more. Despite this, says Zaorov, the airlines are reluctant to hire flying school graduates. Pridhoko alleges that, although Bashkirian does not demand its pilots work more than the statutory maximum 80 flying hours a month, some airlines require them to fly up to 150h a month.
Meanwhile, another change may be looming. The government has proposed that the ministry of education should take over responsibility for professional as well as academic training, which has frightened the airlines and other industries. They fear this could bode the end of state-provided professional training because of budget priority changes the education department may bring, leaving industry or individuals facing the training costs directly.
DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON
Source: Flight International