Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Emirates swoops in drive to attract Kiwi pilots

Emirates is coming to New Zealand with open days for pilots its Kiwi recruitment head Craig Mitchell says is part of a plan to recruit as many pilots as possible.

Woodville-raised Mitchell has been at the world's biggest long-haul carrier for nearly 15 years.

The ex-RNZAF Skyhawk pilot said the sessions in Auckland on April 28 and Christchurch on April 30 weren't formal recruiting days but were more about "spreading the word and sharing the information".

Worldwide there is a shortage pilots and the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association says it is concerned New Zealand's own airlines are not investing enough in the ongoing training of local pilots.

Mitchell said Kiwi pilots were sought after.

''We're looking for as many pilots as we can get at the moment - particularly given the level in which New Zealand-based training is held in high regard."

Emirates pilots typically work 85 hours a month.

At entry level a first officer is paid up to 44,450 Dirham ($17,031) a month including a housing allowance. That can be tax free depending on accounting arrangements.

A captain with 7000 hours command time is hired on 58,770 Dirham a month, including an accommodation allowance. Staff also get other benefits, including insurance and free travel.

Mitchell said Emirates flies to 155 destination in 83 countries and its 4227 pilots were busy.

''It's a bit like the old Navy adverts - join Emirates and you'll see the world."

Pilots would be flying the biggest passenger plane in the world, the Airbus A380 or Boeing 777s, ''which is no slug either".

While average flying times are about six hours, the airline flies some of the longest routes in the world - up to 17 hours - and pilots can bid for the sectors that they want to do.

From a pilot's satisfaction point of view it's horses for courses. Some don't adjust to different time zones and others only like ultra long haul. It really is a personal thing.

''They put in preferences to try and massage their rosters for them and the company - even the most junior pilot gets the chance to be at the top end of the bidding priority," he said.

The airline was not targeting any particular group and was now able to hire those with a multi engine turbo prop background as well multi engine jets meaning some Air
New Zealand link pilots would be eligible if they had sufficient hours.

''We've had great success with turbo prop pilots - those who fly the smaller aircraft often have more challenging roles flying lower altitudes close to icing levels and into smaller airports with limited facilities ."

Pilots of 20 tonne aircraft with 2000 hours' experience would be eligible and those who had flown 10 tonne to 20 tonne planes needed 3000 hours.

''Its harder to get pilots - particularly experienced pilots - we have high standards and that's what we're after, the selection process is no cakewalk - Air New Zealand and all the good airlines do it."

Trainees work in flight simulators then go out on the line with a training captain and build up their experience with up to 30 to 40 sectors of line flying, often more for those without jet experience.

Emirates is also looking for freighter pilots, although the pay is lower they work on a 28-day on and 13 day off roster and on flights that take them to an even greater range of destinations than those flying passenger jets.

Mitchell's father was an airman attached to the RAF.

''We grew up with this legend in our house."

Mitchell spent 10 years with the RNZAF flying in its aerobatics squad and Skyhawks. He didn't follow the standard route from the Air Force into Air New Zealand.

''Around about that time they decided the Skyhawk pilots were a bit too much trouble and didn't have the right sort of background with too many bullets and bombs and not enough of getting on with people. So guys like me had to go abroad and get their experience."

He taught in Saudi Arabia's air force for four years before flying for British Midlands.

''With 9/11 things got a bit tough and we decided to seek a bit of job security in the Middle East. It may seem a bit paradoxical that you would go to the Middle East for job security but from an airline industry perspective it is one of the best places to get a job as a pilot."

He joined Emirates as a first officer in the A330, went on to be captain of A340s and in 2008 was appointed chief flying instructor for those aircraft. He's recently upguaged to A380s which he flies regularly - twice a month on average - together with his head office job in Dubai where nearly all Emirates' staff are based.

Emirates is competing in a tough market for pilots. By Boeing's calculations there will be 617,000 new pilots needed within the next 20 years.

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association says together with government and industry financial barriers must be lowered to entry in order to retain New Zealand's best talent.

"Global demand for pilots are at an all time high and we must preserve New Zealand's expertise by ensuring working terms and conditions in New Zealand are attractive enough to provide a secure career path, thus delivering a safe and experienced piloting workforce in New Zealand," said the association's president Tim Robinson.

- NZ Herald

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