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Vacancies Fair In Russian Sky

Vacancies Fair In Russian Sky

18.11.2009 — Analysis

The shortage of pilots capable of flying modern aircraft is intensifying in Russia. The State has shoved the responsibility for training pilots onto air carriers. The RusBusinessNews observer was finding out how the chronic staff starvation can be overcome in the Russian aviation.

Human error by crew has been named by the Russian Aviation Authority one of the main causes of air disasters in recent times. According to the official data 31 air disasters involving commercial carriers occurred in 2005-2009 in Russia, 560 passengers and members of crews have died. This includes helicopter crashes in Ugra and Yamal, a transport aircraft plummeted from the sky near Chelyabinsk. In the Perm Krai there has been a disaster involving a helicopter and a Boeing 737 belonging to Aeroflot-NORD with 82 passengers and 6 crew.

"It is beyond doubt that pilots' qualifications do affect the flight safety. We have to look for the human error factor in the overwhelming majority of air incidents (75-80%)," Serghey Lukyanov, the Director of Business Education Programmes of the Economics Department of the Ural State University, is convinced. "This may be caused, among other things by the excess of prior experience when a Tu-134 pilot starts flying a state of the art Boeing. He is mechanically used to carry out totally different procedures. Moreover, due to the shortage of high quality pilots Russian air carriers violate the work time regulations, pilots trained to the current standards have to fly the amount of hours exceeding regulations limits."

Experts point out the two key components of the staffing problem in the Russian aviation. On the one hand there is an excess of aviators, technicians, pilots, and navigators in the job market today. This is connected to the fact that several Russian air carriers (S7, Russia and some others) have laid off large numbers of staff who used to run outdated Russian aircraft. Moreover, in recent times several large Russian carriers - Domodedovo Airlines, KrasAir, Dalavia - ceased to exist, and they kept a large pilot staff.

Pilots from the abovementioned carriers are the main source of flight staff for the Urals carriers. "There is a queue of people wanting to fly at the doors of UTair and the Ural Airlines. However, the shortage is still very acute from the point of view of these pilots conforming to current requirements," Mr. Lukyanov points out.

At the time when there is an excess of pilots in terms of numbers, there is a shortage of quality. This shortage in Russia and in the Urals Federal District in particular has begun 4-5 years ago when UTair, Ural Airlines, and later Yamal and Kogalymavia started the active modernisation of their fleet replacing Tu-134, Tu154, An-24 by Airbus, Boeing and ATR. Serghey Skuratov, the Director General of Ural Airlines made a prediction two years ago that "the pilots training costs are extremely high, pilots can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Already in the nearest year there will be a crazy shortage of pilots in the country. We could employ around 20 new pilots every year."

It is worth pointing out that the largest Russian air carrier Aeroflot needs to employ 200 new pilots annually. Even during the crisis the company still advertises vacancies.

Initially it was presumed that when the fleet is replaced the existing staff will undergo the retraining process. Air carriers had choice, as soviet aircraft required the crew of 3-4 people while the modern aircraft only requires two - the captain and the second pilot. The idea failed, though. "Surplus staff, as a rule, does not satisfy the new air carriers' requirements. The pilots have not been trained to fly imported aircraft. Old pilots do not know English and the knowledge of English is essential now. Air carriers do not invest money into retraining of pilots of age", Mr Lukyanov points out. There is a fresh example of this: Urals Airlines has written off four wide body Il-86 having retired the pilots.

The hopes for the young flight school graduates are very tenuous. In Russia there are only three education establishments training staff for aviation: the Saint Petersburg State University of Civil Aviation, the Ulyanovsk Aviation High School, and the Buguruslan Flying School. The future pilots are still being trained on the outdated soviet craft.

Vasiliy Andreyev, the Director of the Buguruslan Flying School admitted in the conversation with RusBusinessNews that the staff training system today falls behind the international requirements. "The training is done with the use of Russian made single engine aircraft, sometimes rejects. In 2010 we will start using the western Cessna and Piper aircraft for training. The State has already allocated the needed money. The Saint Petersburg University of Civil Aviation is purchasing these craft and it will go, amongst other places, to Buguruslan. We are merging with the University and becoming its subdivision," said Mr Andreyev.

At the moment, however, air carriers themselves are burdened with the task of training up to date pilots. In order to organise a centre for training pilots on western aircraft it has to be certified by the aircraft manufacturers - Airbus, Boeing. Only large Russian companies - Aeroflot and S7 - have such centres. The Urals carriers have to train their pilots abroad rather than at own premises. This incurs extremely high costs, this is why we talk of "piece goods".

European carriers have resolved this problem long ago. Jiři Svoboda, the Ekaterinburg and Urals Director of Czech Airlines told RusBusinessNews, "I can tell with all certainty that our company does not have staffing problems. All our pilots fully conform to up to date qualification requirements. We have pilots not only from Czechia working for us but also from USA, Canada, Italy, and Ukraine. Czech Airlines has its own pilot training centre certified by Airbus. This centre also trains pilots for other companies, including Russian ones.

Russian pilots trained to the up to date standard earn about 5 thousand US dollars per month. This is a good wage for Russians but their foreign colleagues earn significantly more. This is why Russian pilots with good command of English are always tempted to flee to the West and Russian carriers fear losing the money they invested in staff training.

The State has no choice but to take upon itself the burden of training the up to date flying staff for civil aviation and modernize the equipment in education establishments for the renovation of their equipment. Otherwise Russia will have no other option than to patch the staffing gaps by allowing the employment of pilots from abroad. However, acceptable working conditions will have to be created for them first.

Pavel Kober

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