Emirates President Denies The Airline Has A Pilot Shortage

Filed Under: Emirates

Emirates’ president, Tim Clark, is one of the brightest guys in the airline industry. I have a ton of respect for him and what he has done to turn Emirates into the airline it is today. The airline has managed to scale their route network with A380s in a way no other airline has, and unlike their Gulf rivals, the airline is doing very well.

However, Emirates is having some internal challenges at the moment, as it relates to their pilots. There’s a global pilot shortage, or perhaps more accurately, there’s huge demand for pilots, and lots of lucrative contracts available.

Emirates has parked about 20 planes at Dubai World Central, they’ve cut routes, and they’ve even reduced pilot staffing on some longhaul flights.

Back in April Clark said that the airline is “a tad short in pilots but should be alright by September or October.” Many suggested this was a severe understatement, as I’ve heard stories from many levels at Emirates about just how many pilots have been leaving. While Emirates is working on training new cadets, the problem is that it doesn’t actually solve their problem, which is that at this point their pilot contracts aren’t as competitive as they used to be.

What’s interesting is how Clark is now referring to this issue. Skift has a story in which Clark addresses the pilot shortage. Or perhaps more accurately, he pretends it’s not a thing.

“The pilot [issue] is right back where it needs to be. I keep hearing about a global pilot shortage, but this was more of an internal thing. There was just a mismatch in where we thought we would be in terms of the operations of the airline and the number of crews that we were going to need.”

Hah! This is like when United CEO Oscar Munoz said Dr. Dao was “reaccommodated” on another flight.

There’s no pilot shortage at Emirates, but rather there’s just a “mismatch in where we thought we would be in terms of the operations of the airline and the number of crews that we were going to need.” Alrighty then. By that logic, Qatar Airways doesn’t lose money, but rather they just end the year with less money than they started.

Clark claims the airline has a steady flow of pilot cadets, and that the aircraft groundings right now are purely due to Ramadan:

“It’s no point flying empty aircraft if you know the demand isn’t going to be there when the Islamic world is not traveling.”

Clark is one of the more honest guys in the industry, though understandably it’s in Emirates’ best interest to minimize this shortage as much as possible. It’s certainly advantageous for him to pretend the pilot shortage doesn’t exist:

  • It worries people regarding whether or not their flights will operate as scheduled
  • It raises general concerns about the safety culture of the airline if the experienced pilots are leaving and they’re replacing them with people fresh out of flight school
  • In many ways acknowledging the problem further legitimizes what’s going on, and is likely to cause more pilots to leave

I guess we’ll be finding out soon enough what the truth here is. All my sources at Emirates tell me this is a very real problem, so with Ramadan ending in about a week, we’ll have to keep an eye on how many planes stay parked at Dubai World Central.

My money is on things only getting worse, rather than this being a “mismatch,” as Clark refers to it.

  1. I understand Ramadan dates start earlier each year yet this is the first time Emirates has parked planes as far as I recall. Even during the height of the recession back in 2009 I remember Emirates flying its A380 to JFK with more than half of economy empty rather than just parking the plane.
    I recall we were all sad for Air Berlin last fall but given the global pilot shortage, I presume most if not all of the former Air Berlin pilots easily found new jobs by now.
    I do hope Emirates fixes this issue soon.

  2. For those not in the know, what do do you mean by their contracts not being as competitive as they used to be? What changed with Emirates or other airlines?

  3. Pilots are leaving EK in droves. I have a good friend who had been there for 8 years, a 777 capt. He just left to go to Southwest. He said all the US expats are leaving. The US airlines pay so much more and treat the pilots so much better there’s no point in staying, his words no mine.

  4. @HK,

    Ben originally posted about it here: https://onemileatatime.com/emirates-pilot-shortage/

    There’s a lot of good comments from readers who are “in the know”, but I think it boils down to:

    1. EK pay is no longer competitive in the industry, so pilots are leaving to go to other airlines with better compensation packages
    2. EK forces all crew to be based in Dubai, and that’s not convenient or desired by many pilots.

  5. Hi Lucky, can you do a post in which you compare the perks/salaries of working with an ME3 versus the US3? It will be interesting to see how their benefits/compensation differs!

  6. There are currently a large range of issues that are hampering the operation at Emirates, with respect to the pilot issue it has moved from a shortage to what is fast becoming a crisis.
    To understand why experienced pilots are leaving in large numbers you need to understand the methodology and management techniques employed by the organisation and its’ management.
    From a pilots perspective the overall culture is a toxic and punitive one based in no small part on the excessive workload, minimal rest and an intolerance to any form of dissent with regards to safety and fatigue. Couple this with a real feeling of servitude and control that is perpetuated by biased and opaque workplace decision making with certain passport holders getting preferential treatment whilst others are exploited. Throw into the mix, rampant local inflation, a compensation package that has shrunk by 20% in real terms and it goes some way to getting a better picture of why Sir Tim prefers to use weasel words rather than be honest with what has happened on his watch.
    Make no mistake Emirates is bleeding experience in the cockpit it also seems that for now they are either unwilling or unable to stem the mounting tsunami of resignations because as was once said to a group of Emirates pilots by a prominent “local” non flying manager “All you pilots are lazy”

  7. I was a 380 Captain with EK, left after 18 years, it was the best day of my life, they treat employees like slaves

  8. @Lucky

    You can never find out what is happening inside. They are capable of sending A380s to tiny places, throw a dart on the world map and send a 77W just to prove naysayers are wrong.

  9. I’m from Calgary, Canada. My neighbour is a captain of B777, working for Air Canada. He is originally from Europe and said that Emirates made him a very good offer, plus will be much closer to EU. He is starting the job with EK on August 1st…

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