A UK recruitment agency, claiming to operate on behalf of Alliance Airlines, is offering British pilots major perks to fly the carrier’s E190s, including “serviced apartments” and Qantas flights back home.
Emails to prospective employees, seen by Australian Aviation, state it’s seeking both captains and first officers for 12-month contracts in Darwin and Adelaide, with roles to commence within a month.
It comes as the industry faces major skill shortages globally, with international airlines adding to the local problem by actively poaching Australian pilots during lockdown last year. It also follows Alliance rapidly expanding its E190 fleet to 21 aircraft, with another 12 on order.
According to the email, up to 30 pilots, including 15 first officers and 15 captains, are being sought out under an unspecified short-term skilled worker visa program.
First officers would be offered salaries of around $76,000, while the proposed salary for captains is still being negotiated, the email notes.
The employees would be also provided with accommodation, as well as “concessional” commuter benefits back to the UK on Qantas flights, on a “two months on, two weeks off” roster.
It comes just two weeks after Qantas made a bid to purchase the remaining 80.1 per cent stake in Alliance, which would see the carrier become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Flying Kangaroo.
It also comes as Qantas continues to expand its existing wet lease agreement with Alliance, to operate 14 QantasLink-branded Embraer E190s, crewed by Alliance personnel. The agreement offers Qantas options to use up to 18 Alliance E190s under the QantasLink brand.
According to Kirsty Ferguson, founder of Australian aviation recruitment firm Pinstripe Solutions, it is “very rare” for overseas pilots to be hired in Australia, when more often the opposite is true, and Australian pilots are recruited to overseas airlines, such as to the US.
However, she did suggest that issues within the aviation training pipeline could be contributing to Alliance’s desire to bring in type-rated E190 pilots from overseas.
“We can see carriers both here and overseas initially prioritising type-rated pilots, as this facilitates getting them back online more quickly. This makes sense as our industry ramps up,” she said.
UK-based regional carrier Flybe had 25 Embraer E-jet aircraft before going under in 2020, while British Airways’ regional arm BA CityFlyer currently operates 24 E190s.
The Department of Home Affairs confirmed to Australian Aviation that pilots remain on the list of approved occupations for skilled migration, allowing organisations to hire from overseas using “a number of temporary visa options” once certain conditions are met.
Businesses who hire overseas staff must first advertise the role on three national jobs websites for a month in order to prove no Australian citizen was capable of taking on the role.
They also have to pay visa costs and additional expenses for migration agents, which regularly cost up to $10,000.
Before the pandemic, using these temporary visas to bring in skilled pilots from overseas was not hugely common.
In 2017-18, the Department of Home Affairs issued just 16 temporary skilled worker visas to pilots, after issuing just 15 the year prior.
Meanwhile, pilot unions questioned why more steps weren’t being taken to hire and train Australian pilots for these roles and queried why overseas pilots are the most suitable solution.
“Australian pilots, particularly airline pilots, have been amongst the hardest hit employees by the pandemic,” said AFAP president Captain Louise Pole in an email to members last night. “Most of us have endured significant stand downs and many have lost their jobs, such as the Tigerair pilots and Virgin ATR and wide-body pilots.
“Advertising for foreign pilots at this time is a betrayal of trust for all Australian pilots – the company’s existing pilots, currently-unemployed experienced Australian pilots and many pilots in general aviation who are looking to progress their aviation career.”
Captain Tony Lucas, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, agreed, stating, “We would hope that Alliance Airlines would employ Australian pilots before considering foreign contract crew.”
Alliance Airlines declined to comment.