Commercial Aviation

200 foreign pilots – is that enough to satisfy the ambitions of Russian air carriers?

6b35276ee04d428f40f16c60ea9295b6Recently the Russian Ministry of Transport has prepared an amendment allowing the employment of foreign pilots by the Russian carriers. Under the initiative the Ministry suggests to open a 200 Pilot-in-Command (PIC) quota for foreigners, which would be effective for five years. According to the officials, currently the Russian market lacks only the aforementioned number of PICs with zero-rate deficit of First Officers (FO).

However, high wages, which are up to 30% higher than in Europe, along with the competition among local carriers seeking for experienced candidates, may serve as evidence that the suggested quota is still insufficient to ensure the successful development of the air transportation in Russia.

According to industry experts, currently Russia requires approx. 1000-2000 new pilots each year. Unfortunately, national aviation training institutes are capable of preparing only about 700-900 young specialists. Considering the fact that only relatively recently that number was raised from 500 pilots per year, it comes as no surprise that the Russian aviation market is faced with the serious shortage of experienced specialists.

Pilot shortage remains a topical issue in various regions, particularly in Asia, where some companies are already forced to moderate their expansion plans and keep some of the fleet on the ground as there is no one to operate it. The situation in Russia has not yet reached such extremity, but many local carrier already stress that the issue of limited pilot offer in the market is alarming.

The ever-growing deficit forces Russian air companies to entice experienced pilots from each other since the market cannot prepare the required amount of PICs and no foreigners are currently permitted to fill in the vacant positions. This eventually results in pay raise. In Europe the average salary of a Boeing 737NG PIC is $7-8 thousand. Meanwhile, in Russia the pay is up to 30% higher – approx. $10-12 thousand per month.

The statistics show that on average approx. 5% of pilots worldwide (including Russia) retire each year. The preparation of a new PIC takes about 5 to 7 years. Considering the moderate numbers of aviation schools’ graduates during the past few years, the upcoming generation of PICs will suffice to cover the current fleet. However, the number is definitely too low to support the extensive fleet expansion.

During the upcoming 5 years Russian carriers will receive approx. 500 new aircraft the majority of which are Western-made. This does not include the transactions of pre-owned aircraft, dozens of which are being bought or leased each year. Depending on a particular aircraft type, every new aircraft in a carrier’s fleet may require on average of 16 pilots, or 4 full crews. This suggests that the real demand for PICs in the upcoming 5 years will exceed 2000.


Table №1. Deliveries of new aircraft to Russian air companies and air forces during 2013-2018. Source: Ascend

‘The roots of the current situation in the Russian market can be traced back to the Soviet times, when the region’s air companies used to operate Soviet-made aircraft, and  there was no need for the development and integration into the global market,’ comments the CEO of, Skaiste Knyzaite.

Several decades ago many Asian-Pacific countries were also closed to foreign pilots. However, along with the extensive development of air transportation in the region, the demand for experienced pilots rocketed. Due to limited local resources Asian countries didn’t have the capabilities to prepare the required amount of specialists on time. As a result some of the countries opened their markets to foreign pilots including China and Vietnam which had traditionally been perceived as being even more conservative countries than Russia.

The industry practice has shown that welcoming foreign pilots usually results in positive consequences, since many specialists arrive from Europe and the USA. Foreign pilots can share their experience and promote higher proficiency of Aviation English among local crew-members thus contributing to higher flight safety both in the country and across the region.

According to experts, today approx. 5% of experienced pilots have no jobs, which corresponds to about 12 000 specialists. Some of these pilots are from Europe and the USA where several large and many small carriers have recently gone bankrupt or restructured their businesses. By opening the Russian market to foreign pilots the country would definitely attract the attention of specialists from around the world.

Meanwhile, some experts are concerned that foreign pilots might inflict additional risks related to cultural differences, miscommunication and other human factors. However, previous success in opening markets to foreign nationals has proven that multi-national crews do not pose any additional risks. Aviation, unlike many other industries, operates under universal rules and principles.

‘The allowance of foreign pilots will be ‘the gulp of fresh air’ for Russian air companies. However, we believe that 200 pilot quota is not enough to support the ever-growing demand for experienced specialists. Already today we receive inquiries from pilots from the CIS and Europe who are ready to move to Russia and work for local carriers. Should the market be opened for foreigners (both PICs and FOs) it will be a huge help to Russian carriers in implementing their strategic plans and optimizing costs. Moreover, an increased competition on the market would restrain the growing rates of salaries. Air companies would also find it easier to adapt their crews to seasonal changes, when additional pilots are required just for several months,’ commented the CEO of


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