Malaysia-based low-fare carrier AirAsia plans to phase out its foreign pilots as part of the carrier’s goal to employ an all-Malaysian workforce and to cut costs.
The exercise would happen gradually with the expiration of the pilots’ respective contracts. The airline has not set a date to achieve its objective but estimates that it should materialize by 2018 or 2019.
According to an airline spokesman, AirAsia now employs some 700 pilots, 100 of whom are foreigners from 32 countries. All serve as captains on the Airbus A320 fleet.
The last foreign first officer to have served on the fleet, a Filipino, has transferred to Manila-based low-cost carrier Zest Air, in which AirAsia holds a 40-percent stake. AirAsia also holds a 40-percent share of AirAsia Philippines.
AirAsia hopes to hire more Malaysians with frozen airline transport pilot (ATP) licenses to fill the vacancies of senior first officers promoted to captain over the next couple of years.
Some 955 young Malaysians with frozen ATP licenses who privately funded their training at local flying schools are currently unemployed.
Rapid expansion over the last five years has forced AirAsia to hire a huge number of foreign crews, despite poaching serving pilots and hiring some who retired at the age of 60 from flag carrier Malaysia Airlines. AirAsia pilots can fly until they reach the ICAO-mandated age limit of 65.
The AirAsia fleet averages 14 hours utilization a day, thanks to 30-minute turnaround times and high crew productivity.
A pioneer in low-cost travel in Asia, the carrier started operations in December 2001 with two 737-300s serving four domestic destinations. Its fleet of 64 Airbus A320s now flies to 44 destinations from four hubs: Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Kuching International Airport and Senai International Airport.
Holding delivery positions on 86 Airbus A320s, including 64 A320neos, the AirAsia group operates affiliate airlines in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan, as well as a long-haul carrier, Air Asia X. It plans to launch AirAsia India in the fourth quarter with Indian partners Tata Sons and Telestra Tradeplace. While AirAsia and All Nippon Airways have agreed to dissolve the Japanese venture due to “management differences,” AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes has already signaled a desire to enter a joint venture in Japan with a different party.