Riyadh Air has started recruitments for pilots with extensive experience operating Boeing's 787 Dreamliners. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: The race to recruit is on at the Gulf’s newest airline – Riyadh Air in Saudi Arabia – as it targets hiring as many as 700 pilots in the next 3 years. Add to that tally a sizeable cabin crew, engineering and IT professionals, then what you get is one of the most ambitious hiring programs in recent years within the region’s airline industry.

The hiring of the first batch of pilots – around 20 – has started, and the Saudi airline is looking for those with extensive experience steering Boeing 787-9s and 777s wide-body aircraft.

According to Peter Bellew, Chief Operating Officer, "Interviews have been taking place. We expect people to physically join us from January to April of next year."

Some pilots are expected to start in October through November. "Recruitment for the core group will continue until December this year," said Bellew.

Backed by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), Riyadh Air initiated a multi-billion-dollar transaction in April 2023 for 72 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The airline is currently in an active bid for narrow body fleet order, the results of which will be announced later this year.

UAE will be a catchment area

An ex-Ryanair executive, Bellew joined Riyadh Air in March last. He said that the airline considers the UAE and the rest of the Arab world as a significant catchment area for aviation talent.

The airline's focus on point-to-point traffic is a bid to compete against UAE and regional airlines, which too have been on a mega hiring spree since the start of this year. "People from the UAE have seen the development (in Saudi Arabia) first-hand,” the COO added. “I think that would make the airline attractive for them - we're a global player in a global marketplace."

Peter Bellew, COO, Riyadh Air
Peter Bellew Image Credit: Riyadh Air

Bellew said the airline has had a massive response from applicants across Europe, Asia, and the Muslim world, where there's tremendous talent for pilots, cabin crew and engineering personnel.

"Working for the airline would give them (employees) an opportunity to be part of the core group building a brand new startup offering extremely high-quality service to a destination where there's proven demand," said Bellew.

Competitive pay scales

While the COO did not reveal the salary structures and incentives of prospective employees, he said the airline is offering its employees' competitive pay scales' and an attractive roster allowing work-life balance.

"Our terms and conditions are competitive, though not yet disclosed. Our point-to-point approach promises a better crew lifestyle. Pilots and cabin crew will enjoy more time at home, improved family time, and an appealing roster pattern."

Cabin crew recruitment

On the cabin crew recruitment front, Bellew said the airline has already received applications from candidates. "We're screening the initial applicants, a process that will continue for the next few weeks. Our plans also involve conducting cabin crew equipment roadshows worldwide.

“We'll invite those who've applied to meet in various cities, building our database."

After recruiting the initial cabin crew group, they will be the nucleus for training upcoming crew members. This process will commence in October and extend into 2024.

"Initially focusing on pilots, we'll soon transition to cabin crew recruitment over the following months,” said Bellew. This core cabin crew group will then lead the training for subsequent batches, leading up to the commencement of commercial operations in 2025."

Training at multiple sites

"Training will take place primarily in Saudi Arabia and London,” the official added. “The cabin crew team training will take place primarily in Saudi Arabia, but for some of the initial groups, we will do some hospitality training overseas."

Along with Prince Sultan University, the airline will also build a simulator centre and cabin crew training facility, which should be ready late 2024.