Middle East airlines face a "huge challenge" as they seek to recruit nearly 33,000 pilots over the next 20 years to operate more than 2,000 new aircraft.
The region's airlines hope to attract staff by offering attractive salaries and better job security than their cash-strapped competitors in Europe and elsewhere.
"It's a huge challenge and looking forward is likely to pose significant problems. The challenge is finding people with the quality and experience of flying wide-bodies airplanes internationally," said Captain Ed Davidson, the senior air transport adviser at the consulting firm Tetra Tech AMT in the US, on the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow yesterday.
Globally, as many as 436,500 pilots are needed by 2029, according to estimates by Boeing. In the Middle East, up to 32,700 trained pilots and 44,500 will be required in the region.
The extra flight crew are needed to operate an estimated 2,340 new aircraft, worth US$390 billion (Dh1.4 trillion), as the region's airlines increase their fleets at an accelerated pace.
"There's a concern that the need to get someone in a seat will mean less ethical airlines compromise on experience and quality of pilots," said Capt Davidson.
With carriers in other parts of the world also adding to their fleets, he said regional airlines would have to entice pilots with incentives such as bigger salaries and allowing them to remain based in their home country.
In a bid to help to meet the challenge, Mubadala Aerospace, through its subsidiary Horizon International Flight Academy, yesterday announced a joint venture with Abu Dhabi Aviation to establish a flight-training facility in the emirate to serve global commercial and defence customers. The deal also included the purchase of a full-flight simulator representing the AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter.
"Mubadala Aerospace is at the forefront of creating a local and international aerospace industry in the UAE and surrounding region built on mutually beneficial partnerships," said Homaid Al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace.
Middle East carriers are also confident they will be able to meet the jobs shortfall.
The prospect of job security was a big draw for prospective new staff, said Capt Martin Mahoney, the senior vice president of flight training at Emirates Airline.
Many other international airlines are expected to struggle to break even this year as a result of cooling global growth and higher fuel costs. As a result, there is a risk of cost-cutting and even job shedding.
"Emirates are in a privileged position as a much sought-after employer," said Capt Mahoney. "Pilots are looking for security and the most modern aircraft in the world and we can offer both." Emirates Airline is expected to train 568 pilots this year and about 500 next year and the year after.
Emirates offers pilots salaries in line with industry standards as well as accommodation, medical and dental cover, and a contribution to utility bills and education expenses, he said.
Flydubai has a contract with CTC Aviation, a UK-based airline training provider, to help to recruit pilots for its expanding fleet. The low-cost carrier expects to recruit 91 pilots this year.
"We have mapped out our recruitment strategy for the next four years and we feel confident that we will achieve our goal," said Capt Ken Gile, the chief operating officer of flydubai. "This is an attractive and exciting part of the world for people to work."
While airlines in the Middle East are trying to stimulate the local market by hiring nationals, they have largely relied on expatriates to meet their staffing needs. They also try to promote from within for specialist skills, helping pilots certified for the Airbus A340 to become certified for the double-decker A380, for example.