Gulf Air may be asked to employ 100 local pilots
Manama, December 16, 2012
Bahrain’s flagship carrier, Gulf Air, could be asked to recruit around 100 unemployed Bahraini pilots if a new proposal by a parliamentary committee is accepted, a report said.
The proposal is mooted despite the airline being on the verge of a major downsizing, said the report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister newspaper.
As many as 1,800 jobs could be axed as part of a deal to secure a BD185 million ($492 million) government bailout, but a parliament committee is now recommending MPs vote in favour of the pilot recruitment drive, the report said.
The bailout has been put on the back burner while parliament focuses on the national budget.
It appeared in October that parliament and the Shura Council would rubber stamp the cash injection, after the government outlined a major downsizing plan designed to reduce Gulf Air's losses from BD95m to BD58m a year by 2017.
But the two chambers of the National Assembly have still not approved the rescue package and an MP involved in reviewing the proposal told the GDN some had objected to the money being deducted from the national budget.
However, financial and economic affairs committee vice-chairman MP Abdulhakeem Al Shammeri added the future of Gulf Air would be discussed "soon".
"We will soon come to Gulf Air's bailout as part of our discussions on Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding Company's spending," he told the GDN.
"But there is opposition within the committee on whether the government bailout should come out of the national budget or not, considering that Mumtalakat contributes nothing to the government's coffers.”
"It is too early to focus on this controversial issue, but future meetings will underline what steps will be agreed on between us and the government."
The GDN reported in October that the airline could be dramatically downsized, with as many as 1,800 staff facing redundancy under a deal put on the table by the government to secure National Assembly approval for the BD185m bailout.
However, another parliament committee is now recommending that MPs vote in favour of a proposal to hire around 100 unemployed Bahraini pilots - who include some trained at the government's expense through Tamkeen.
"When Tamkeen launched its piloting programme, it aimed to provide Gulf Air with a sufficient and strong supply of pilots that could take the place of expatriates currently employed at the airline," said parliament's legislative and legal affairs committee chairman MP Ali Al Ateesh.
"We don't want to see those qualified Bahraini pilots moving elsewhere either to regional or foreign competitors because then we would have lost loyal Bahrainis, spent money unnecessarily on training them and allowed our competitors a marginal cutting edge.
"The proposal we have recommended also includes Bahraini pilots who have studied at their own expense.”
"The airline has lost a lot of Bahrainis who are now leaders in regional and foreign airlines. We don't want to see more jump ship."
Gulf Air Trade Union president Habib Al Nabbool said he supported moves to recruit the unemployed pilots.
"Of course, we are not saying that they should be captains from day one because it is a lengthy process and hours have to be completed to advance through the ranks," he said.
"But Bahrainis have to be given the chance rather than the Europeans or Asians we currently have in the airline.”
"We don't have anything against European or Asian captains, but they are not as loyal as Bahrainis who in the end don't want to leave the country and leave their families or friends behind if competitors present them with a better offer."
Al Nabbool said Bahraini pilots were now captains at Gulf Air's rival airlines, which they joined because they were made to wait so long for jobs at their national carrier.
"Gulf Air's indecision through inexperienced management throughout the years has always put Bahrainis on the bottom of the rack as far as employment is concerned," he claimed.
"Either the leading pack is from a certain country that employs its own people, or when Bahrainis are employed they are made to work longer hours, have less benefits and stressful operations."
He argued the proposal should be expanded to include 100 aviation engineers who were also on Gulf Air's waiting lists.
"Gulf Air has to become a more Bahraini-oriented airline and consider Bahrainis first, rather than look elsewhere for staff who possess the same knowledge and experience - and maybe less," he said.
Two weeks ago parliament voted to replace the entire Gulf Air board and tear up the contracts of two consultancy firms, SH&E and Seabury, recruited by the airline. Five MPs submitted the proposal, arguing that neither the new board nor the consultants had sufficient commercial aviation experience.
Gulf Air lost its chief executive last month after Samer Majali's resignation - which he submitted earlier in the year - was accepted. – TradeArabia News Service