20220828 uae pilots
The regional pilot shortage could start as early as the end of this year, reaching an estimated 3,000 pilots in 2023 and 18,000 by 2032. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: The No. 1 priority for UAE and Gulf airlines? Find pilots, and more cabin crew while they are at it.

“Due to the strong rebound of air travel over the past 12 months, UAE airlines are urged to continue and boost cockpit crew recruitment efforts as pilot shortage threatens air travel in this region,” said Linus Bauer, Managing Director at Dubai-based Bauer Aviation Advisory. “A pilot shortage could cause a domino effect across the entire aviation sector, impacting the recruitment and business activities of other aviation players.”

According to the recruitment consultancy Oliver Wyman, the regional pilot shortage could start as early as the end of this year, reaching an estimated 3,000 pilots in 2023 and 18,000 by 2032 if no “accelerated” action is taken.

By taking on recruitment earlier than the rest in the airline industry, the UAE’s airlines and airports largely avoided the disruptions seen in Europe and US during the summer. Around 2.3 million jobs have been lost across airlines, airports, and civil aerospace groups since the pandemic outbreak— a 21 per cent reduction compared with pre-COVID-19 levels, according to an Oxford Economics report.

Persistent issues

Although the peak summer demand is showing signs of easing, the labour shortages will continue to persist in some markets. “Shortages may persist in the UK and Europe as older workers stay away, and critically, fewer younger workers are willing to replace them,” said Bauer. “The labour market will remain tight at least this year since people have alternatives and could easily switch jobs.”

Countries with very low unemployment rates such as the Netherlands have been dealing with a high number of unfilled vacancies, causing major disruptions at large hub airports. “Another major factor slowing the hiring process is the time it takes new workers to get security clearance at airports – up to five months in some European countries.”

New business model?

The current labour shortages will result in higher costs for airlines and may make flights more expensive. Some airline executives have argued that the industry needs to step away from the pre-pandemic model, which relied on heavy cost cuts and passenger volumes to make flying cheaper.

“The torrid summer in the UK and Europe signals a clear wake-up call for all stakeholders of the aviation ecosystem, including governments, to work on solutions for 2023 and beyond,” said Bauer.

Covid has also reignited the age-old debate about which industry model will be more suitable in the coming years. Under the ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, which has been a cornerstone of full-service carrier networks for decades, airlines use banks of incoming and outgoing flights to offer passengers many possible itineraries. The ‘point-to-point’ airline system involves flights being operated directly between two cities, regardless of distance.

Qatar impact

Dubai and Abu Dhabi will host tens of thousands of fans during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Several carriers have announced daily shuttle flights to Doha, while hotels are already seeing an uptick in queries and advance bookings.

“This will cause a ripple effect for the tourism and hospitality in nearby countries – especially the UAE with its large aviation sector,” said Bauer. “Qatar as World Cup host country will profit from the increased revenue, while UAE can offer fans an alternate destination to base themselves in at cheaper rates for the duration of the event.”