Captain Moataz Alswaini is the kind of person who makes you realize that it could only a matter of time before half the pilots at Emirates Airline are Emirati nationals. Hailing from Dubai, and at 38, he is the airline’s deputy chief pilot for the Airbus A380 and exudes all the calm of one of the airline’s most senior flight operations personnel.
Alswaini has been at the company for 15 years. He joined in 1999 as a cadet, did two years training in Western Michigan University in the U.S., came home, and did transition training straight on to the A330.
“I flew [that aircraft] for most of my career. I then moved to the Airbus 340, the A340-300 and A340-500, and then I progressed as a first officer on to the Airbus 380,” he explained to AIN. “I had to come back to the Airbus 330 to do my upgrade. I did a year of training and then joined the A380 fleet.”
He flew his first A380 in 2007. “I was one of the first guys who transferred onto the A380. Initially we only flew to New York. JFK has always been a busy sector.”
A full-time A380 pilot will fly 80 hours a month, which, on long-haul, could be only three sectors. Alswaini wants new entrants to be commercially oriented and adaptable. “Open to changes of fleet, changes of rules. [To] being a role model.”
Emirates is known for stringent entry criteria. It hires “motivated, technically proficient and experienced pilots who aspire to excellence.” Minimum first officer requirements include an ICAO ATPL and excellent English-language fluency, to ICAO English level 4 or above.
“We will accept applications from pilots from multi-engine, multi-crew, turboprop and jet aircraft, including business jets, with a MTOW of 10 [metric] tons or more,” the company said. “Our employee diversity of over 160 nationalities is our unique strength as a global organization. Our employee diversity also complements Dubai’s cosmopolitan multicultural population where over 85 percent of residents are expatriates.”
Alswaini has a busy career. “It all depends on how you plan it, manage your life. It’s [the only] job [I’ve ever done]. You just get used to it,” he said. “The pressure, the expansion—you can see it since 2001. The expansion never stops. I could have been a line pilot, had rosters, and still be flying around the world, but I chose this field, and luckily I got it.
“Yes, I do have weekends off with the family. Basically, my wanting to learn has pushed me to seek this position. It’s a demanding job, being a Deputy. It explains why I am comfortable where I am.”
Alswaini does about three flights a month. “I will not be flying the week of Dubai Airshow because I want to attend. I [flew] to Munich on October 25, and in November I am doing London Heathrow and Hong Kong.”
He has several other responsibilities as deputy chief pilot. “We manage operational issues, expansion, SOPs, pilots, with regard to their performance and capabilities. If there is any issue online, we discuss with training how to decide a proper training package. We manage rosters, promotions and vacations, but it’s mostly operational. We take on projects, manpower issues, with planning expansion, whether we are going to recruit more, where we will get trainees from.
“We need experienced pilots. Recruitment is ongoing all around the world, through roadshows. The week [of Dubai Airshow], they are taking place in Australia and the U.S. Training programs have very stringent requirements to cover pretty much all the network. The simulator sessions are very demanding. If they pass these sessions and a number of other requirements, we take them on.”
Being commercially minded is important in an Emirates pilot, Alswaini said. Despite a recent halving in oil prices, he cited the ‘cost index,’ something Emirates uses for flight planning, to decide flight speed. If tailwinds would enable a flight to land well before its scheduled arrival time, throttling back to a more cost-effective speed can mean significant fuel savings and still enable the aircraft to land on schedule. Altitude choice also affects fuel burn.
Though UAE aircraft movements are affected by weather only around 10-20 days a year, other diversions can also be managed. “A commercial-minded captain will choose an airport that is safe and has an Emirates support team that will help with a quick turnaround to continue the flight to its destination with minimum cost,” he said.
The percentage of Emirati pilots at the airline is likely to grow in future, he said. “Well, the word is out. We definitely have more pilots coming in, by word of mouth and by the nature of the job. It’s a good package overall. I can see a lot of potential, of more nationals applying. Recruitment is ongoing. They are doing a great job promoting us through career fairs, through advertising, and the numbers are there.”
AIN asked how many new A380 pilots he will need this year: “The numbers change all the time. We have around 1,100 pilots for 67 aircraft on the A380. The aircraft is fully rostered. Recruitment supplies the manpower. We manage pilots as they come up.
“If they are looking for 100 Emirati pilots, they’ll get over 700 applications a year. The interest is always there. They are never short on numbers. I can see potential for expansion, with the way the airline’s growing, [in] the number of national pilots.”