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Rex must accept big airlines will poach its pilots, says rival

written by Jake Nelson | October 26, 2023

Skytrans CEO Alan Milne. (Image: Skytrans)

The CEO of the airline that has stepped in to fly a route axed by Rex has dismissed comments that Qantas is poaching pilots.

Skytrans CEO Alan Milne said smaller airlines must accept employees will move to bigger rivals, adding that it represents a good outcome for everyone.

It follows Rex blaming Qantas’ “relentless pillaging” of its pilots for its decision to cut services on a number of regional routes. Skytrans, though, has expanded its services to Bamaga in response to Rex withdrawing from the route.

“We’re a regional airline, that’s what we do. We’re a feeder organisation for the bigger airlines. I understand Rex’s concern about it, but everyone has that same concern,” he said.

“We made sure that we put something in place to make sure that we protected ourselves. Now, if we get three or four years out of a pilot, that’s a great outcome. If they then move on to Qantas or Virgin that’s a great outcome for them as well, and for Qantas and Virgin, because they’re getting airline-trained pilots – they’re not coming from the GA world.


“There will be a percentage of our pilots that are here to build their hours to move into the majors, be it into QantasLink on the Q400s, Alliance Airlines on the Fokkers or the Embraers, or even direct entry into Qantas or Virgin. That’s a normal career progression, and I think most airlines would understand that.”

Milne detailed Skytrans’ partnership with CQUniversity, which sees “the best of the best” graduates serve as first officers in its Cessna Caravans until they reach 700 hours, at which point they are given command of the Caravans, eventually moving up to first officer and then captain in the airline’s Dash-8s.

According to Milne, this is a more attractive prospect for an aspiring pilot than paying to get their flight hours up at a general aviation airport like Archerfield or Bankstown with no promise of a job at the end.

“This will give you a pathway to an airline command in a matter of maybe four years, so as you can imagine, that has been very, very popular. I’ve still got an enormous amount of resumes on my desk to go through,” he said.

“It’s programs like this that regional airlines have to focus on. Recruitment and retention is really important to us – with the total understanding that they will move on.

“There’s a lot of our pilots that are here because they like the flying, they like Skytrans, and they like the Cairns environment. So, it’s not all of them, but if they do want to move on then great, that’s their career path, and so they should.”

Skytrans, which has operated three flights per week to Bamaga since September 2021, will increase its frequency to nine per week as of October 30, with an eye to further increases from April.

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Comments (2)

  • Finally someone who understand how pilot progression works. Sharp chose to join the mainstream business of airline operation so is just continuing his usual whinges about Qantas & Virgin

  • Alan Milne. Wow. Ex QF, and a very highly regarded individual. Mr REX could learn from this guy.

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