Ouch: Qatar Airways Laying Off Senior Pilots

Filed Under: Qatar

We’ve seen major layoffs at most Gulf carriers in recent months. Well, that trend is now continuing with more pilots at Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways laying off pilots

Qatar Airways is this week sending out its latest round of end of employment notices to pilots. As these notices begin:

“This letter is to advise you of the outcome of a recent review of our workforce requirement. Due to redundancy we regret to inform you that your services with the company are no longer required.”

Pilots receiving these notices are being told that they’ll receive 90 days worth of salary in lieu of the notice period, per contractual terms. Since these pilots are in Qatar on work visas, this also means that they’ll have to pack up and leave the country within weeks, unless they can figure out some sort of other visa.

Qatar Airways is laying off more pilots

Qatar Airways’ approach to layoffs

While it’s not unexpected to see pilots being laid off during this crisis, the unfortunate part is the way that Qatar Airways is going about it. While the exact criteria isn’t known, Qatar Airways is at least in part:

  • Laying off pilots who are 60+ years old
  • Laying off captains who have been at the airline for 10+ years

This is similar to the approach that Qatar Airways took with laying off cabin crew, where those with 15+ years at the airline were receiving layoff notices.

At a unionized airline layoffs would typically happen based on seniority, which in many ways is fair, as it reflects loyalty to the airline.

Qatar Airways is taking the approach that minimizes the cost to the airline, disregarding any loyalty to the company:

  • Those who are 60+ years old are being laid off, since realistically they’ll have to retire in a handful of years anyway, so there’s no reason to keep them around during a period of reduced demand
  • By laying off some senior captains rather than more junior pilots, the airline is saving money, since those senior captains are being paid more
  • By laying off pilots from some specific fleets, the airline can minimize the amount of retraining needed, for those pilots who may be forced to move to different planes

The Gulf carriers offer some incredible opportunities for pilots around the world to fly huge jets and get paid well. At least that’s the case when times are good. When times are bad you can be laid off and forced to leave the country you may now call home within weeks.

My thoughts are with all the Qatar Airways pilots being laid off this week. That can’t be easy…

Qatar Airways is laying off senior pilots

Bottom line

Qatar Airways is issuing another round of pilot layoff notices. There’s not much transparency to the process, though it appears that these layoffs are largely targeted at older pilots, as well as those who have been at the airline for a long time.

While working for a Gulf carrier as a pilot can be a great gig when times are good, during bad times it’s a whole different story. Without a union, the airline is free to lay off pilots however it would like. That can include laying off the longest service (and therefore most “expensive”) pilots.

  1. Most ex-pats who take these jobs do risk:benefit analyses.

    For most Brits, for example, Middle Eastern salaries are tax free — the U.K. (unlike the US) won’t tax you on earnings abroad. So British pilots in the ME get mega-salaries AND don’t pay income tax.

    In exchange they have much less job security and what some might consider a “hardship posting”.

    It’s almost always tough to be made redundant. But I don’t think we should feel especially sorry for Qatar’s most senior pilots, who are likely to have made an exceptionally good living even compared to their western pilot colleagues, let alone cabin crew anywhere.

  2. The pilots are probably prepared by now though. It’s been months into the pandemic with no end in sight. They probably have a good idea this was coming.

  3. I agree with the commenters above.
    At the same time, I wonder if these pilots would have been ok if they were offered a 50% paycut for 2-3 years rather than being made redundant.

  4. Totally agree with nice Paul that’s exactly the situation as I see it – in Australia we have many ex pat QR senior Pilots who made a “tax free” killing, I believe they are/were well prepared for this eventuality but it’s still unfortunate

  5. Agree with comments above. Yes it’s sucks, but they’ve done pretty well, and you have to factor all this in.
    Its prob better than firing a 30-40 year old pilot with a family to support?

  6. I have a trip booked to the Maldives with QR in April. I will definitely have second thoughts now. Many of the younger pilots are locals with very little experience. I have flown some of the smaller regional planes with QR with these younger pilots and have had some less than positive experiences. Plane bouncing really hard on the runway twice. One time the plane had to be taken out of service. I like to see a little grey on the side when I fly and I do fly a lot.

  7. Agree with the posters above. Many of these pilots would have moved to QR from EU airlines understanding that they are entering a trade off between higher pay and job security/conditions. It was great while things were booming, but now the tables have turned. Most have made their money so should not be facing too much hardship. Be far worse to be a pilot starting out with a young family and large training debts.
    From QR’s perspective it would be insane to keep these on given that they will be retiring by the time industry bounces back in a few years time, leaving QR with a pilot shortage

  8. Ben, the work visa situation is pretty standard. Anyone on H1-B visa in the US has 60 days to leave the country or find a new job.

  9. Naturally I feel immensely sad about folks losing their jobs. I speak as a well travelled senior citizen. Last year I flew with Qatar Airways for the first time, business class. Hand on heart I have to say it was an indelibly memorable experience. In a plethora of ways the service was far, far above any of its many competitors with whom I’ve flown.

    Way, way the worst experience is with British Airways. As an Englishman I’m ashamed of our national flag carrier. Normally I avoid them as if every one of their employees was Covid-ridden. Withholding my custom from BA is my way of punishing thm for what they did to Virgin Atlantic when the latter airline first launched. The facts are well documented in a book entitled, “Dirty Tticks”. In summary: almost certainly on senor management instructions, BA staff contacted VA customers, posing as staff from that carrier, ‘claiming’ that unfurtunately their flights had been cancelled but, surprise, surprise, space could be found for them on BA routes. The eventual denouement was that Branson took BA to court and won damages of about £600,000; legal costs must have run into many more thousands. A despicable act on BA’s part and though I wasn’t one of the victims I’ve deliberately boycotted them ever since except for one inescapable occasion over which I had no choice. On that trip, about two years ago, the cabin crew’s general demeanour outbound and inbound bordered on the surly. I gather that in many circles BA stands for ‘Bloody Awful’. I note that year after year they’re rated very, very low down the graphs in international customer satisfaction surveys. As for their management ‘skills’, take as illustration how they hugely mishandled the aftermath of the Boeing 777 crash-landing at Heathrow some few years ago. They gagged the pilot, just part of their lamentable ‘strategy’. Compare that modus operandi with how a Qantas pilot, Captain Richard de Crespigny, was given unffetered freedom to conduct matters shortly after his crippled A380 had been successfully saved from almost certain disaster following an engine explosion about ten minutes apre take-off from Singapore. The gentleman, despite the drama, tension and trauma of the event, gathered all the hundreds of passengers together once they were safely in the terminal building (there’s much, much more to to the story than what I’ve just outlined ) and informed them that even as he was speaking the airline was working to arrange onward flights, at the same time apologising for providing less than the standard of service folks had come to expect of Qantas. As if all this wasn’t enough he then announced his personal mobile number inviting anyone who felt let down to call him personally and complain. (Nobody did.) Beyond exemplary PR. Repeat, his employer backed him up to the hilt. BA’s way of doing things in similar circumstances is akin to the difference between a shed and The Shard… My perception of BA is of hoity-toity top brass and a ramshackle jumble sale mentality cascading all the way downwards – in both senses of that latter word.

  10. @david Hughes. Irrelevant story and sure BA missed you. Not Furthermore consider how MEA carriers treat their staff In the gulf

  11. What ever it is the disasterous pandemic has leave all of us a mark to remember. From financial economy to the whole.
    Anyway QR has taken a cucalative measures.

  12. @Mick – Did it ever occur to you that 50 year old pilots have families to support? A 30 year old has a better chance of getting hired at another airline, not so much for the 50 year old, experienced pilot. Unions matter! If I was an experienced pilot, I would never give up union protection to work for a non-union airline even if I could avoid taxes and make a higher salary. And as a passenger and frequent flyer, I prefer experience over youth in the cockpit.

  13. @the original donna
    Excuse me. But I am so sick of hearing that the young people should always take the burden. Everything in aviation should be merit based. Attendance etc.
    People in their 30s usually have small children, unlike people in their 60s who shoukd already have people graduating college.

  14. Am following and learning keenly. It’s true, Pilots aged 60+ have families to support, hence should not be marginalized, besides they are very experienced, hence customer confidence. (Goodwill).

  15. Isn’t It interesting? Pilots (male majority) are fired due to age (money), and FAs (majority female) are fired due to age (aka their looks). Hmm.

    @The Original Donna. Good point!

  16. @Erick: I would agree with you if there weren’t two issues that older pilots feel much stronger than younger ones:
    1) Once you get laid off, all the seniority you accumulated is gone. You start from zero with your new employer
    2) That is, if you get employed. because of age discrimination that is very unlikely, especially in the current situation

  17. @The Origibal Donna
    “ If I was an experienced pilot, I would never give up union protection to work for a non-union airline even if I could avoid taxes and make a higher salary.”

    Isn’t that exactly the point? The expats flying for QR looked at that choice, and made a different choice to you. They took the big salary and tax-free status, instead of job security.

    After many years of winning big time, now the dice has fallen against them.

    It’s likely horrible for the individual, and my best wishes are with them, but how is any of this particularly unfair? It’s simple risk v. reward. And sometimes the risk turns sour. That’s the game you’ve chosen to play…

  18. As a former employee of QR, I sympathise with friends and colleagues being laid off. However, due to the nature of the profession, QR management could have negotiated salary reduction for some years to save same amount of money for the company while protecting the jobs of the older pilots. Not many pilots have been there for more than 10yrs as QR is a relatively young company. In this Covid-19 era, there are no easy solutions.

  19. @Fernsie Qatar Airways does not maintain a “regional” fleet as every flight is international. The country has three airports that can handle airliners; one military (USA base, Al Udeid), the old airport (one runway), and the new airport that opened around 2014. There are no domestic scheduled flights as the country is simply not large enough.

    The fleet includes A320s and derivatives which are used for shorter flights but under the current embargo conditions, I believe the shortest flight is just over an hour from Doha to Muscat in Oman, or possibly Doha to Kuwait City. Other than the A320 series, all other aircraft are wide-body Airbus and Boeing hardware. QA boasts one of the youngest fleets in the world.

    Back on topic. It is not necessarily “easier” for an older pilot to be laid off. Many of the pilots at Qatar have arrived there due to their previous employer failing. Many have no pensions and few assets and are attempting to secure their retirement. The last five employable years are usually critical as their are few opportunities for 65+-year-old retired pilots in the post-retirement market while younger pilots will possibly struggle for a few years but then regain their position for professional income. Difficult times, especially for those with age-limited careers.

    As a retired QA pilot, I can testify that the staff are well trained. Prior to arriving at QA, I spent over 35 years working for a North American carrier. It is a risky undertaking departing the “cacoon” of unionized employment but there are rewards, only some of them financial. My initial plan was for a three-year stay but my wife and I enjoyed our time there so much, we remained for seven years. Travel and educational opportunities abound, and the lifestyle is unique. We were fortunate to leave at a time not impacted by current circumstances.

    I believe the pilots currently working at QA have had part of their wages deferred for payment at some future time. Layoffs are taking place on selected fleets such as the A380. With active quarantine protocols, it is not a pleasant working environment. Crew are virtual prisoners no only within Qatar, but on layovers in foreign countries. Being employed, even under these difficult conditions, is still preferable to the alternative.

  20. @flytDeck- I should have said regional flights and not regional fleets. I am specifically referring to A320 flights I have taken around the region. Talking about mainly Kuwait and Amman. Having said that, when it comes to flying, I still prefer a bit of grey over youth any day.

  21. I’ve worked for 6 airlines in the US and Europe. 3 of them union and 3 non – union. I would much rather work for an airline where I am represented by a union ( preferably ALPA ). As for those who say it’s ok to lay off the older pilots first, please consider the fact that those older pilots have already paid their dues in spades, experiencing furloughs and or bankruptcies and unemployment. Laying them off in their final money making years is the final insult to an already difficult and frustrating career.

  22. @michael. I see your point. However, seniority system is an obsolete way of managing airlines staff. Everything should be based on performance, like any other job in the world. Competitive, and realistic. This increases employees motivation, and thus, improves the company’s performance. Why should it be different in the airline industry?

  23. @erick- I think there are 2 different issues here. Rating performance and firing people due to their ages are completely different issues. What QR did is fire their highest paid pilots who happen to be the older pilots without any regard to performance. Furthermore, when it comes to flying, do you really want to go the performance route? Older pilots would likely outperform younger ones but that would also depend on what the performance factors would be. Younger pilots are more likely to take risks. Is that what you want inside an airplane?

  24. QR is showing just outside such a good employee. But the truth is oposite. .I was the biggest fan of QR but not any more…they made crew redundant and after months they are still in Doha…they told them they will paid them last salary + final satelment in 2-3 month!!! Really? How they can garantee them they made promises they really will acomplish it when the people will be then way back home …What message QR send to the world, what kind of company they are, how they treat their workers…I work in HR. Don’t they know the human = are the company!!! After that what they are doing right now QR could be happy if the people from the countries of the third world would want to work for them, European will not definitly…Shame on them. I really could not imagine in my deepest nightmares it could be possible they are like that. And I was so in love with QRI am so so so dissapointed of #gatarairways
    Many many crew left and leave their last salaries and final satelments just to go finally back home because they had so enough of them So sad how they play with human lives and health. But Payback time will come, God and Universe will take care of it. Be sure of that!

  25. Sadly one should expect such outcome working for non-union airlines.
    The pay is great, but job security, working conditions, and loyalty suck big time.
    You maybe commanding a 777, but those Bedouins look and feel about you the same as they do other migrant workers!

  26. @Ross Aimer
    So casual racism is ok, then?

    Funny, I don’t see the average CEO of a western corporation showing many warm and fuzzy feelings towards their minions.

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean “minions” I meant “colleagues”. Or “family members”. Until it’s time for mass layoffs to protect the CEO’s massive bonus, of course. Then all those members of the xxx family are, it turns out, variable cost units which are entirely disposable.

    No corporation is lovely. Why would you expect Qatar to be different to, say, the US3 or BA?

  27. @The nice Paul,
    Agree with most of what you say. My comment about rich Arab employers was not meant to be racist, but a fact.
    I know because l flew in that region for a while. Look up how they treat migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent! Now that they don’t need Sr. pilots, they treat them the same.
    As a retired airline pilot for 40 years and still involved in commercial aviation, I’ve seen it all. Especially in this racket, unions are a must!

  28. David Hughes
    I’m not sure what level of first class service has to do with the experience of pilots and the safety of flight. Do you equate fine china and silver service with a safe flight? I equate safety of flight with an experienced crew on the flight deck.

  29. As an older pilot, who started a “bit” late in my training and accumulated a huge training debt ,when i tried to get that first job in a country downunder I was treated by employers like I had leprosy.
    So, I do feel for older pilots,because you cannot buy experience.

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