Emirates Could Store 45 Planes In Coming Weeks Due To Pilot Shortage

Filed Under: Emirates

A couple of weeks ago, James wrote about how Emirates is reducing some flights due to a pilot shortage. In the past we’ve seen Emirates sometimes store planes briefly due to decreased seasonal demand. While parking planes isn’t cheap, it’s certainly more expensive to fly them at a significant loss, so it’s the best option in those cases.

Emirates’ unprecedented pilot shortage

Emirates is currently dealing with an issue in unprecedented numbers. Specifically, Emirates pilots are quitting to go work elsewhere. The airline has always had some level of turnover, but they’ve never had anything to this degree.

Emirates’ president said that the airline is “a tad short on pilots,” which is perhaps the understatement of the year.

How bad is Emirates’ pilot shortage? Media reports suggest that Emirates will be parking 46 planes over the coming months:

  • Emirates will park 11 Boeing 777s and 1 Airbus A380 this month
  • Emirates will park 14 Boeing 777s and six Airbus A380s in May
  • Emirates will park 11 Boeing 777s and three Airbus A380s in June

Altogether that represents 36 Boeing 777s and 10 Airbus A380s, which is about 18% of Emirates’ fleet (specifically 25% of their 777 fleet and about 10% of their A380 fleet).

While it’s possible that Emirates may have otherwise stored a few of these planes, the numbers in which they’re storing these planes is unprecedented. Emirates is flying these planes to Dubai World Central Airport (since there’s no room at Dubai International), so by June that airport should look like an Emirates parking lot.

Some suggest that a fairly new widebody costs roughly a million dollars per month between leasing and financing costs, as well as maintenance contracts and insurance. If that’s the case, storing 46 planes would be a loss of $46 million per month, or over $500 million per year (though presumably they wouldn’t be parked for that long).

Why are Emirates pilots leaving?

In the past, the contracts that Emirates offered were extremely competitive:

  • The salary is mostly tax free
  • Emirates covers housing and lots of other expenses for pilots
  • The pay rates themselves are quite good
  • You get to fly some cool planes as well; if I were a pilot I’d much rather fly an A380 or 777 than a regional jet

Of course there are downsides as well. Emirates pilots work a lot of hours, and work some crazy hours (no matter how hard you try to adjust, I imagine working a 3AM flight never gets easy). You also have to live in Dubai with no option to commute — personally that’s something I wouldn’t mind, though I realize other people would far prefer a commuter contract, where they work two weeks on and then two weeks off, or something.

So why are pilots suddenly leaving? Because there’s now a worldwide pilot shortage. 10 years ago pilots couldn’t find jobs at major carriers and pay had been cut significantly. Now pilot pay is as good as it has ever been, and Emirates hasn’t kept up. So either pilots are moving back home to find jobs there that pay comparably, or pilots are moving to other countries where airlines are offering incredible contracts. For example, Chinese airlines are known for their extremely lucrative contracts, with many pilots at Chinese airlines apparently earning $300,000+ per year, with the ability to commute.

Bottom line

We’ve seen Emirates park some planes before, but have never seen them park 45+ planes at a time, as far as I know. This isn’t just an adjustment for seasonal demand, but clearly reflects their severe pilot shortage.

While I know Emirates has some pilots in training right now, it sure doesn’t sound to me like this shortage will figure itself out in the next few months, because pilots are still leaving in droves. While Emirates pilots obviously aren’t unionized, it sounds to me like there might need to be some negotiating when it comes to their contracts. What was once an industry leading benefits package is no longer the case, and things are only getting worse.

I also don’t want to say that we should be worried as passengers, but ideally you want to fly with an airline that has experienced pilots with lots of hours. Emirates simply isn’t able to maintain that type of talent pool with what they’re offering right now.

Emirates’ president makes it sound like this problem will be solved in the coming months, though it doesn’t look like that’s happening. This will be an interesting situation to follow as we move into the summer.

  1. So with all these planes on the ground, are they cancelling flights? Or they never scheduled the flights using these planes in the first place?

  2. 75% of my “paid” flights are in First / Business class (haters gonna hate). These pilots behaviour is simply outrageous and i think i will never fly Emirates again. No way they need to earn more than me.

  3. Somehow I don’t buy the ‘pilot shortage’ story Emirates is pushing through. What I think it is is low passengers number. I say this because Dubai International Airport movement has leveled off recently, and it is an airport with many foreign carriers serving it, not just Emirates. With such a level off, it just tells me arrivals into Dubai is down and the city itself isnt facing any further growth. As a result, Emirates is facing the dilemma of low passenger numbers (hence the parking of planes).
    So yes, pilots may be short because but I believe the real reason is because Dubai’s growth has stagnated recently and the city isnt willing to admit it publicly. Just blame it on the pilots.

  4. This is bologney. Emirates no longer has access to unlimited capital due to the economic situation of its parent, and needs to rationalize its route network in budgeting its current resources. For 2 decades, Emirates and the other Gulf carriers have mostly functioned as a convenient place to put dollars, and the time for that need has clearly passed. This is not a “pilot shortage” in any sense, but only a money shortage. That which can’t go on forever . . . won’t.

  5. I’m also curious why other airlines are not having the same problem as EK (or are they but it’s just not being reported to the public?)

  6. This is completely wrong i’m afraid. The figures you have stated are the totals for that month – i.e. the total grounded aircraft in May is the overall total, not added to what’s grounded in April. There will be a total of 20 aircraft not flying in May, 14 max in June, 7 in July and 6 in August.

  7. @Endre –

    Judging whether someone deserves to make more money than you is kind of a sociopathic trait. You probably have a tough time finding peace in your life.

    Also, I hate to break it to you, but if you think 300K$/year is an “unfair” wage for pilots then you probably aren’t doing very well yourself! There are plenty of plumbers and electricians who you should envy as well.

    My vote is to pay pilots as much as they want! I’d rather them fully concentrate on getting @Endre home safely while he sips champagne in his revenue F seat!

  8. No such thing as a shortage. Emirates is simply unwilling to pay the (new) market pay for pilots. The end.

  9. Endre is not a troll. He is consistent like a wall. Always the same thing.

    The people that argue with walls and then throw a fit that the walls don’t make sense are the trolls. But I am sure you will not see it that way. Just like Donald Trump you think you are the victims and you are the best if only the world will let you be the best.

  10. If they can make more money elsewhere, more power them. I don’t want an underpaid pilot on my plane!

  11. We were waiting for Debit to chime in and refer Trump. I really doubt he knows very much about the airline industry. If he does, he should provide us with some constructive information

  12. Emirates pay rates are not “quite good.” Their pay is well below market rates, even taking into account the lack of income tax (and housing allowance). Maxing out at $126,000 as a captain with 10 years’ experience is less than half of what major European, American, and Chinese legacy carriers top pay is, which tends to be around $300,000.

  13. If this story is even true, I love how the key insight is buried.

    “You also have to live in Dubai with no option to commute”. Whoop, there it is.

  14. With all due respect: You can’t add up the monthly numbers. This article is…pretty bad.

    May/June are in general low months for Middle East carriers. The fact that Ramadan starts in two weeks doesn’t help. If EK was to ground aircraft in July and August, then things would start to become interesting.

  15. Please keep in mind that Dubai hat a huge inflation of over 20-30% over the last years, but the big honor thought that EK Crew don’t need more money. Add 8 days off a month (of which at least 2-3 are needed for ULR rest recovery), than add vouchers instead of cash for layovers, base hotels, horrible treatment (they treat you like shit!)

    Back in Europe, all those LCC (Jet2, EasyJet, even Ryanair!) treat you with respect and dignity into DEC positions.

    So: PAY FOR EK CREW IS SHITTY AND LOW. Shedules are literally killing people.

    Lucky: I think that this Blog usually is quite good, but please stop writing bullshit like this. People are running away from the sandpit.

  16. Will they reconfigure the 777s with new seats considering they will be on ground for quite some time(3-4months min.)

  17. I have two long-haul sectors booked with Emirates for May (SEA-DXB, DXB-SYD). Should I be worried?

  18. Couldn’t bare to live in dubai which is expensive, boring, clinical, restrictive. It would be interesting to get views from an EK pilot, but I’m sure that would be awkward.

  19. I was told their newest aircraft are on fly by the hour leases. So if the don’t fly them. They don’t pay.

  20. If this is rally happening, it’s unlikely it’s due to pilot shortage…the writer himself says “its cheaper to park the planes than operate them at a loss” which may be true, BUT….lack of pilots has nothing to do with operating at a loss or profit…so while they do have recruitment and retention issues, parking 45 planes is due to “other” shortages

  21. Qatar package is way better, pilot training as well, have you guys seen what kind of accident Emirates was about to do lately ? They almost crashed in New York with the A380, they didn’t just because the warning sounded and the ATC guy alerted them, same in moscow, they were landing on the grass with a perfect weather not to mention the 777 they destroyed in Dubai for a stupid pilot error, I don’t fly with Emirates anymore, I did before for many years, now it’s too risky, the pilots are not good quality ones I think.

  22. I am told by a friend pilot at Etihad , that they also have a pilot shortage ,but trying to keep it quiet !!

  23. To the author: You do know that the numbers do not add up…. I think your “sources” mixed up that net amount parked. EK will not “park” over 16 777s in the Month of May.
    Those 16 contain the 11 from the month before, that is a net addition of 5 777s.
    So, actually EK is parking by the end of Jun: “11 Boeing 777s and three Airbus A380s”.

    Not over 45 aircraft, that would never make any sense especially with the summer-peaks coming in.

    Also I think there is some confusion as some of these “parked” will have to be returned to the finance company because of the end of lease. Would be interesting to see the registration numbers… by that you can find out at least when the lease ends.

    Further more, it could be that some are scheduled for D-check maintenance and refurbishment and their is an backlog on this.

    Yes, still a lot of aircraft parked, and yes, that is not a good sign, but the above description is a bit exaggerated and gives an imbalanced view.

    The pilot topic is an separate issue altogether and many carriers face similar issue as tech crew is a occupation that is very difficult to gauge in general and always has been. Recruiting and retaining Quality flying personnel is in all carriers an issue.
    Check out CX, AF, LH, etc.

  24. EK is indeed parking aircraft over the course of this year. The highest is 20 in May, and the lowest is 6 in Aug and Sep. Pilots are indeed resigning from EK in higher numbers than previously experienced. Why? As some here have mentioned, for better pay (ie China Southern and Eastern) and some because they’re just fed up because of the work schedule wherein they don’t spend enough quality time with their families. EK’s motto in the past has been “If you don’t like it then leave.” Now they are because conditions elsewhere are just as good, better or not quite as good but they get to spend more time with their families.

    The cost of living continually rises in Dubai with no increase in salary. For the past 10 years there has been no appreciable salary increase at EK but the cost of living in Dubai has gone up considerably. School fee’s which are not completely covered by EK, groceries have increased significantly, housing (although the rents and purchase prices are coming down within the last 4 months), fuel and now the tax system has been implemented.

    This is normal in any part of the World in a prospering city however for the salary not to increase along with the cost of living is a bit much to expect from any group of professionals.

    Pilots being worth their salary…..
    in general they are tested every 6 months in a simulator to the most gruelling conditions over 2 days and at EK it’s done typically at 1 or 2 am until 5 or 6 am. Pilots also have to have a physical every 6 months or 1 year depending on their age. I don’t know what other set of professionals are put through such tests, continually, to maintain their license so that they may carry on doing what they love to do. Doctors….no, Lawyers…nope, Teachers….you get the idea.

    At EK they also have to work through the middle of the night and they fly East West East West long haul routes with insufficient time to recover in between those routes. If you’ve done a long haul route you know how hard it is to recover when you return to your home. It’s called being jet lagged. Pilots at EK sometimes do it twice a month, sometimes 3 times a month!

    Anyone on this thread attempting to say pilots aren’t worth every penny they’re paid and more hasn’t experienced the life of a pilot and what sacrifices it took to get to the level of flying a wide body aircraft internationally or even a narrow body locally, although with the A320neo aircraft having just flown 11hrs narrow body aircraft are now catching the wide bodies.

    So….yes, pilots ARE leaving EK for better lifestyle choices and EK DO have to park aircraft because of the lack of pilots. They also have to reduce frequency on some routes because the lack of passengers travelling.

    EK has to do some serious internal reflection on their standard operating procedures if they don’t want to go the way Gulf Air did. There’s no room for complacency in aviation.

  25. There is conjecture mixed with the factual side, in this article. I retired 2 years ago after 14 years as a captain with emirates airline.
    The perceived pilot shortage, industry wide is happening, and is not sudden. The momentum of attrition with emirates started happening five years ago.
    The attrition is based solely on supply and demand.
    5 years ago, the attrition was less than 10/month, the training system could easily handle that. Now, the attrition is approaching 20-30/month (conservative).
    The pay suggested in one comment as a max., is misinformed. That is the basic for a new captain.
    Max hours for a pilot is 900/ year. Scheduling has to maximize those hours over the year. There is some colourful manipulation of the hours but that is two detailed to go into.
    Lifestyle in Dubai is anything but boring. You can do anything.
    Accuracy in the article was parking aircraft. That is manageable, the aircraft are rotated.
    So lifestyle, is the main reason for the attrition. China, as an example, hire pilots, with home country domicile. The result is taxation on the salary. Emirates will not have outside bases.
    Supply and demand will determine the pay.
    Emirates is a safe airline, the accident mentioned was pilot error. The incidents mentioned happen in most airlines. Emirates has a robust safety management system.
    I could go on, but I will not.

  26. Nowadays airlines want to pay less and get a lot from pilots , it it’s time to pay for this mistake and pay more , scheduling is going crazy and benefits is getting worst , stop doing this unsafe practices or stop your airplanes

  27. And, pilots… Unless you were originally from that part of the world, who would ever want to live there?! Sure its probably fun for a couple years, especially if you’re young; novelty, bling, and all, but c’mon! For a prolonged career?!?! A pilot’s gotta ask, how long will the excitement last ’til it morphs into the “daily grind”… and you suddenly realize how far from home you actually are! Ugh, no thanks! Everybody figures it out at some point: Chasing money is not everything in life. Emirates (along with their brethren Qatar and Etihad) are quite impressive to the lay travelers, but I agree with the author; behind the scenes, they have yeomnan’s work to regarding the folks they employ fly their aircraft!

  28. Forget bellwether stocks, ignore the pundits, don’t bother with Wall Street or other indices….Market Alert: Endre’s paid F/J is down to 75%. Economy’s heading for the toilet. We have been forewarned.

  29. One thing is not mentiomed in the article, is that a pilot joining EK these days must pay for his training around usd 57.000, payable in a number of years taken from his salary. Don’t forget we pilots are employees, not owners.

  30. It costs at least US$75,000 to train for a Commercial Pilot License, not counting living expenses. While pay may be good now, there’s no reason to believe it wouldn’t go back to the abysmal levels they used to be at a few years (especially at North American regional airlines). There is little incentive to enroll in a flight training program given such uncertainty.

    Every other form of transportation (railroads, trucking, long-distance coach) offers either paid training, or the option of having training costs deducted from the paycheck once the employees start working full-time. Airlines will never avert “pilot shortages” unless they take responsibility for pilot training in house.

  31. Even in a relatively “desireable” place such as Hong Kong I see “tenured” pilots wanting to leave Cathay (and for now—their generous housing stipend) for the USA after 7 years. I can’t speak of conditions in Dubai but living in tight quarters and in a parallel society with the Chinese, yields a low standard of living after living in wide open country such as USA/Australia/Canada. This is just how I feel; I’m sure there will be dissenting views;)

  32. Your information is very wrong. My father flew for Emirates and has just retired (earlier than he would have liked to may I just say) because Emirates is completely overworking their pilots. Legally they are supposed to work around 70 hour a month and yet my fathers hours were in the 100s, sometimes not even with a full 24 hours between early morning departures (which is actually illegal). however Emirates does not take kindly to complaining and threatens to fire their staff for speaking up (which therefore means loosing their visa to live in Dubai, forcing families to get deported). There is a huge amount of fatigue, stress and fear among the pilots within Emirates, which is horrifically dangerous as they fly long haul flights on very little sleep. Also, in the last few years due to the shortage they have been trying to hire as many pilots as possible, offering higher signing bonuses than some of their long-time pilots signed on for or are working towards, which means more and more experienced pilots are leaving to find better options.

  33. This Emirates “parking” story hasn’t quite panned out as predicted. As of today (09.11.18) there are only two ‘stored’ aircraft in the Emirates fleet; Boeing 777s EMX , relatively old at 15.5 years and due for disposal, and ENV, a four-year-old and a bit of a puzzle why this is stored and not an older aircraft. There are 2 or 3 A380s at DWC at any one time but for what reason I cannot speculate.

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