Dubai: Etihad Airways confirmed on Sunday it has extended its ties with rival Emirates airline, allowing its pilots to take up opportunities in the Dubai-based carrier for as long as two years.

The programme allows Etihad pilots to fly for Emirates and receive full benefits and salaries from the latter, according to an internal memo from Etihad that was seen by Gulf News. Any pilot flying for Emirates would have to take a leave of absence but would continue to retain their seniority with Etihad.

The move is the second by the two airlines to collaborate, after Etihad Aviation Group and Emirates Group Security signed a deal to cooperate in aviation security in January this year. Emirates and Etihad have said they are exploring closer ties with each other in areas where it makes sense, but the two deny speculations that they will merge.

“The opportunity will see these pilots that successfully complete the Emirates selection process seconded to Emirates for two years, upon completion of line training,” said the June 21 memo from Captain Majed Al Marzouqi, Etihad’s vice president of fleet operation.

“We will be organising an on-site roadshow at Etihad Airways Headquarters where the Emirates requirement team will be available to discuss further details about this opportunity.”

When contacted by Gulf News, an Etihad spokesperson said this was “common practice,” and that the programme, called a secondment programme, allows airlines to “effectively manage their pilot resources.”

“It is common practice for airlines to work together on secondment programmes and this is something Etihad Airways has done for several years with partner airlines around the world,” the spokesperson said.


When Etihad had offered such programmes in the past, it was with airlines in which it owned a stake, including Air Serbia and Airberlin. With Emirates, however, the two carriers are considered rivals and have thus far only cooperated in areas of security.

For Emirates, the programme is likely to be advantageous as it comes amid a global pilot shortage.

It is not yet clear how many pilots will join the programme or when it will take effect, but sources told Gulf News that Etihad is still gauging interest from its pilots. The launch of this programme comes after Etihad in January offered its pilots leave without pay for as long as over a year as the carrier grapples with costs and mounting losses.

Nearly a week ago, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier reported $1.52 billion (Dh5.58 billion) in losses for 2017, marking its second consecutive year of losses after recording $1.95 billion in losses in 2016.

During the year, Etihad reduced its aircraft fleet to 115 planes from 119 a year earlier and axed some routes, with speculations that the carrier is likely to continue reducing both its fleet and route network.