Emirates Is Reducing Some Flights Because Of A Pilot Shortage

Filed Under: Emirates

Airlines like Emirates have tens of thousands of staff and try and plan for every possible contingency, but sometimes things are just out of their hands. Earlier this month Ben reported that Emirates was reducing flights to Florida and noted the decision, and timing, seemed odd. Well now the reason has been revealed.

Last week, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark held a press conference in Hamburg where he was talking up their new Boeing 777. He admitted that a lack of 100 to 150 pilots meant Emirates would have to reduce frequencies, at least in the short term.

In typical stoic British fashion he revealed:

We’re a tad short in pilots but should be alright by September or October.

He admitted that Chinese airlines have been offering extremely attractive and generous salaries to attract foreign pilots, making it difficult for Emirates to maintain the required number. And these must be very attractive packages, as despite issues Emirates cabin crew may have with their employment and employer, Emirates pilots are compensated extremely well.

Emirates new 777 business class

In addition to the previously reported changes to Emirates’ services to Florida:

Dubai – Ft. Lauderdale Reduce from 7 to 5 weekly, 2-class 777-200LR operating from 2 July
Dubai – Orlando Reduce from 7 to 5 weekly, 777-300ER operating from 3 July

Emirates has now filed the following schedule changes:

Dubai – Bangkok Reduce from 6 to 4-5 daily, operating from 4 May to 31 May
Dubai – Kuala Lumpur Reduce from 3 to 2 daily, on selected dates from 7 May to 6 June
Dubai – London Heathrow Reduce from 6 to 5 daily, operating from 25 April to 22 May
Dubai – Munich Reduce from 3 to 2 daily, on selected dates from 2 May to 27 June
Dubai – Oslo Reduce from daily to 6 weekly, operating for the month of May
Dubai – Phuket Reduce from twice daily to 11 weekly, operating from 7 May to 30 May

If you are booked on an Emirates flight to or from any of these destinations, don’t panic just yet. Keep an eye on your emails and check the status of your booking regularly, as you already should be doing.

During this press conference Tim Clark also announced that the introduction of Emirates premium economy was still at least 18 months away, and that a possible eventual merger between Emirates and the struggling Etihad remained ‘unlikely.’

Emirates new 777 first class

Bottom line

While it’s not unusual to see airlines adjust their flight schedules, especially where they have so much capacity, it is unusual that they are doing this because of personnel issues and not customer demand, especially at fairly short notice. I can’t imagine how much it costs Emirates to cancel flights for this reason, not to mention the logistical issues behind transferring all those passengers.

Recruiting pilots is a time consuming process that does not happen overnight so it will be interesting to see how quickly Emirates can resolve this problem, as presumably they could see more pilots quitting and taking jobs with other airlines.

Have you ever had a cancelled flight due to a pilot shortage?

  1. I find it hard to understand how an airline like EK can find itself in this situation. I assume they generally maintain a buffer of extra pilots. When you see this buffer go down you act and hire / train more pilots. How do you end up short of 150 pilots, unless it was some kind of sudden mass exodus?

  2. Well, is there a shortage of pilots or is there a glut?

    We read up about shortage and then how badly pilots are paid in the US.

    Similarly for lawyers. But the opposite.


  3. I know several Emirates (former) pilots, who left for greener pastures (Chinese contracts or Major airlines in the U.S.)

    Emirates pilots are NOT compensated “extremely well” in comparison. That is why they are leaving (in addition to the relatively poor work conditions at Emirates)

  4. If EK has a shortage, then their package isn’t good enough. There are probably hundred of pilots flying for LCC and earning relatively poor that would immediately change to EK if the salary and associated benefits are good.

  5. @ Potato

    But not many LCCs operate 777s, let alone 380s. There might be some considerable time required to train pilots to fly different birds.

  6. @ Paul – It is about 10-12 weeks to fully train a new hire pilot on a new (different) airplane. Subtract a couple weeks if it is not a new hire (already an Emirates pilot but switching to a new plane)

  7. Emirates is known for having poor working conditions for pilots, paying less than market rates for equipment and routes, having a punitive safety culture, and having a very close relationship with the GCAA that allows schedules most aviation regulatory agencies would find illegal. This isn’t surprising and it is probably just the start of their problems. My understanding is a lot of LCC’s in Europe may pay less than Emirates, but the overall quality of life and working environment is better at those airlines.

  8. I’ve heard the number they’re short by is closer to the 500-600 range. That in itself explains a majority of the cuts. I do not see how they’re going to hire the required number any time soon either given the better packages at other major carriers where Emirates used to once source their pilots from. Sounds like things are about to get even worse for Emirates

  9. @ Jeff – Emirates may not pay their pilots as well as their Chinese competitors but compared with their cabin crew, the Emirates pilots are compensated very well.

  10. @ Jeff

    That fits. A couple of months to hire people and let them work out notice, then 3 months of training takes us to Sept-Oct.

    Which, apparently, is when all the problems will be fixed.

  11. @ James.

    Apples to Oranges. Pilots are paid exponentially more than cabin crew at all airlines.

    Cabin crew takes 6 weeks or so of training.

    Airline pilot takes years of training and progressively increasing responsibility.

  12. Salary is only part of the package. Emirates crews have, in my opinion, pretty lousy work schedules. Departure from the outstation is almost always less than 24 hours after arrival, which means very little rest and/or time to actually see the destination city. Add to that the fact that accommodation in Dubai is mostly in sterile compounds. Not difficult to better these conditions just by giving more free time, both at the destination and between rotations.

  13. @Jeff you’re correct, the reason they’re leaving is more related to benefits, plus others.

  14. Emirates pilots are NOT “compensated extremely well”, nor are their working conditions acceptable. It’s closer to 400 pilots short, and growing. A house in the middle of nowhere doesn’t cut it when you might see it 7 days a month. A lot of EK pilots are not just bailing for China ($$ but not the most…fulfilling place to work) but also for LCCs in Europe and elsewhere. Jet2 for example has picked up quite a few EK pilots.
    Eventually the EK policy of treating their pilots like slaves was going to catch up with them.

  15. Interesting that they decided to reduce flights to LHR. Yes, they do have lots of flights to London, so one less flight doesn’t make a huge overall impact, but I would have figured that they wouldn’t have wanted to change around their customers in their most important premium market too much.

  16. Heard an EK pilot resigned the other day..was told he was #14 that day !
    380 first officer is doing average 100 hrs per month.. All long haul of course.
    Quality of life is what the pilots want back not $$$.

  17. I was booked on the Emirates flight from Bangkok to Dubai on the 8/5/2018 around 3pm which was perfect for me as I could checkout of my hotel around 11.30am and take their chauffeur service to the airport.

    When this flight was cancelled they booked me on the 9pm flight out of Bangkok to Dubai which I didn’t like as it meant hours of waiting around after checkout time from my hotel. It was an award booking through Qantas and they were able to get Emirates to open an award seat in business class on the 9am flight from Bangkok to Dubai which was much better for me and gives me a longer stopover in Dubai which they provide a hotel and meals for so I consider this a win.

    Qantas were really good in notifying me of the changes.

  18. James,

    What an asinine comment. Pilots earn more than flight attendants. No shit. But compared to pilots at other airlines around the world, Emirates pilots aren’t paid especially well (contrary to your original claim), and their working conditions suck. I’m questioning if you’re really bringing anything to table as a new contributor here.

  19. @Chris says:

    Eventually the EK policy of treating their pilots like slaves was going to catch up with them.

    Well put. Though rest of us would think eventually the pilots would realize that life is more than about money. But of course the pilots were held there against their will so they had no responsibility in the life choices they made.

    In the other news, eventually the world will realize what a mistake it has made by encouraging people to become criminals.

  20. As an Emirates pilot, let me add some comments:

    1) Management deceptively include the hundreds of Emirati cadets working their way through the system – years from being online. Therefore the immediate deficit is 400. Head in sand.

    2) There are currently more pilots leaving than joining – it is actively getting worse.

    3) Rather than address problems raised to attract/retain pilots, they dictate HR to target Venezuela and other desperate countries for low-hour turboprop pilots. Literally what is happening – which leads to…

    4) Failure rate in interview process is sky high – due to targeting those inexperienced pilots who can’t speak English properly. Which lead to…

    5) All Recruitment Pilots quit after being pressured by clueless management to ‘pass’ people who cannot fly a plane, or communicate. Literally they are now having to hire recruiters.

    6) Emirates has such a bad reputation in the flightdeck of other airlines, that the ones who are interested often ‘no-show’ for induction.

    How is it all such a train wreck? Emiritisation. People promoted into positions they have no right occupying – all yes men working under the totalitarian regime of one nasty inept man. Our version of QR’s Al Baker.

    A man for example, who recently failed to come to a pilot forum run to find out why pilots are leaving in droves…. he only came when his presence was questioned (so he wasn’t busy) he walked in, shook the hand of the other Emirati onstage, ignored all Western Managers onstage… then sat in the front row with his back to the audience playing on his phone for the remainder of the session.

    Total disrespect to us – even whilst cancelling flights – and though the western management is trying to help us, all proposals have to go through him… so it ain’t happening.

    They genuinely see us as Donkeys the be flogged. They survive by snapping up pilots from failing airlines, now the economy is doing well, that pool of unemployed pilots doesnt exist.

    Given this, coming up to the usual summer exodus – kids finished school, bonus collected, and ofc the heat – the actual deficit is set to soar – and more flights will be cancelled.

    95% Pilots spend their time at work moaning. It’s not a pleasant atmosphere.

    So 400 immediately needed, just to get back to break even legal maximums where they don’t have to cancel flights. They have already pulled every trick in the book to squeeze productivity, things that would never be allowed in a Western airline.

    All in a profession which has a lead-in minimum time of 6 months. 3 notice, 3 training. And where the recruitment pilots have quit…

    The only way out is for the Sheikh himself to step in and remove this individual – who has now set up walls of protection around himself.

    Until that time, expect many more cancellations to come.

  21. P.s James implying that Pilots shouldn’t complain because they get paid more than Cabin Crew is f’ing stupid.

  22. @ BobbyT – interesting insight – thank you for sharing your experience. I have a friend who is a 777 FO for Emirates and she absolutely loves it.
    I wasn’t implying EK pilots shouldn’t complain – I’m aware its a very different job to cabin crew. What I find interesting about the pilot shortage is both the difficulty (i.e. lead times as you have mentioned) in recruiting new pilots as well as the huge impact (both financial and operational) but cancelling flights because of a pilot shortage must place on the airline.
    I imagine if Emirates are short on crew there are workarounds (i.e. they could potentially operate flights with reduced crews) but if there are insufficient pilots the headaches are much larger.

  23. @James I don’t think you understand what is happening here. Emirates is canceling routes (not just individual flights) due to an inability to staff the flight deck. It’s not a temporary miscalculation. This means more pilots are leaving than joining, and those pilots leaving are at all seniority levels, they are not retirements. This is not supposed to happen at a global airline flying wide body aircraft. When an airline becomes understaffed in this way they roster the pilots to fly the maximum. Since there are relatively few limits on flight and duty time in the UAE this makes the quality of life almost unbearable for the pilots still on property and increases their motivation to leave. After this happens, word gets out and Emirates’s reputation as a career destination is toast. It’s not all about pay. Emirates pilots are some of the most experienced in the world. They are very much in demand.

    Also, take a look at some of the latest safety mishaps at Emirates in the last few years. The errors associated with these mishaps are tell tale signs of fatigue and undertraining (ie. selecting feet instead of meters in Russia and not setting thrust for a go-around leading to a hull loss). If the rumors are true, instead of addressing the underlying issues in the airline that lead to these mishaps…the pilots involved were simply terminated.

  24. The pilot shortage has been years in the making, they were warned by Fleet managers, and Recruiting, they were warned by training and the manufacturers. But as pointed out in the above comments a single senior individual interferes with recruiting, rostering and training and is solely responsible for the position they now find themselves.

    Anyone who has ever read a Druker or Stephen Covey book on management would see this as textbook case of why big companies fail.

    Drucker : “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
    Covey: the P/PC Balance…. the farmer has cut open the goose that laid the golden egg, to get all the eggs at once.

    It is a shame on a epic scale

  25. I knew about 5 pilots at Emirates…all but one are gone, and two of them were -777 captains, and one was a -777 captain/tre. About 10 years ago Emirates was a very nice job. About 5 years ago, it was OK. Now it is bad.

    Bonuses have been halted. Pay has not gone up. The money to pay for your kid’s schools has not gone up, while the tuition has skyrocketed. Dubai has had inflation, so your EK dollars buys less. The ONLY base to live in is DXB, which is a no go for many people.

    The rosters are not good, vacation cancelled or moved involuntarily, pilots leaving, so the remaining have to fly more, so more leave, so more flying for the remaining. EK is in a downward death spiral. Three pilots flying Ultra Long Haul legs is a recipe for disaster. In the US, any leg over 12 flight hours REQUIRES four pilots!!!

    For EK to get back to a top-tier airline, they will need DRASTIC measures. Much more pay and much better terms and conditions, much better schedules, etc., etc. Basing in DFW/LAX/FRA/CDG/LHR/SYD would help a lot!!!

    I used to like Emirates, and I hope they can pull out of it. Until then, I will try my best to only fly on Qatar Airways, when I need a ME carrier.

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