Etihad marks Emiratisation milestone

Airline now has more than 3,000 locals in the workforce and plans to employ another 5,000 by 2020, says top official.

Ameena Al Marzooqi, a guest service agent at Etihad, flanked by Ali Al Shamsi, vice president Emiratisation strategy, left, and Faisal Al Mulla, senior manager, graduate engineering programme. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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ABU DHABI // When Etihad began its Emiratisation drive in 2007, it was not always easy convincing prospective employees to work the unsocial hours required by the aviation industry.

“As a culture, we weren’t really in favour of letting our daughters and sons to work outside of normal hours, especially in the middle of the night,” said the airline’s vice-president of Emiratisation strategy, Ali Al Shamsi.

“We started to communicate with families, and sometimes we would invite them to the airport to see the work environment, to see our employees wearing the Etihad Abaya, doing their job,” he said.

Their efforts clearly paid off. On Wednesday it was announced the airline now employed more than 3,000 Emirati staff.

Working through the night or on weekends was never a problem for guest service agent Ameena Al Marzooqi.

“It’s our hospitality, we like to help people,” she said. “I feel like myself here, to smile in front of everyone.”

Dealing with sleep-deprived passengers, even in the early hours of the morning or late into the night, does not faze her, she said.

“I love my country and I love my job. I feel like it’s easy. And when you love something, you can give more,” she said.

“When I see people that aren’t happy, or maybe they’re shouting, I smile, I don’t know why, and they become calm.”

The number of Emiratis now on staff is 3,052, 40 per cent of whom were hired last year, including a record 26 Emirati executives and senior managers.

Ninety Emiratis are positioned at the airline’s offices and airports across the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and the airline plans to employ a further 5,000 Emiratis by 2020.

With a career in aviation spanning 27 years, Captain Salah Alfarajallah, Etihad’s senior vice president of security and national pilot development, said the company’s Emiratisation programme was carefully planned.

“It has been an interesting journey,” said the former air force pilot, who joined Etihad in 2007. “It took a lot of planning, and hasn’t just been reactionary with a lot of efforts to build these programmes.”

“When you have a good percentage of the workforce that is local, you can guarantee some stability for your company.”

In reaching its long-term goal, the airline recently marked the graduation of 280 Emiratis from the its development programme – the largest in the airline’s history.

More than 400 cadets are also enrolled in the Etihad Airways’ cadet pilot programme.

“Today, as one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing major airlines, we are proud to have delivered on our commitment to develop a cadre of highly qualified Emirati aviation professionals,” said James Hogan, Etihad Airways’ president and chief executive.

esamoglou@thenational.ae