Aviation authorities in Russia seem to be placing some unusual hurdles on fired or furloughed pilots who want to work with foreign airlines.
We saw in multiple articles how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has secondary effects around the world. The aviation industry is one of them, in Russia and elsewhere. Beyond the issues regarding leased aircraft and their parts and maintenance, Russia’s airlines can’t fly to sanctioning countries. And sanctioning countries are also sanctioned countries, so they can’t fly to Russia or overfly it.
But something we haven’t looked into as much is what’s happening with pilots. As in many other countries, some pilots in Russia were fired or furloughed during the pandemic. However, the invasion came just as the country’s industry was recovering. This had a telling effect on Russia’s air traffic, even if we compare the current picture with what happened during the pandemic!
Russia – Fired Pilots Looking For Better Luck?
According to Russian sources, the country’s air traffic in March this year is over 20% down, compared with 2021! April is worse, at 33% down. Later months got better, but still around 20% worse off than a year before, i.e. a pandemic-hit year. Obviously, this created many fired and furloughed pilots in Russia. And many of them sought opportunities elsewhere.
But there is some paperwork to get through before these fired pilots can work professionally outside Russia. The authority that licensed them, Rosaviatsia, has to provide information about their qualifications to prospective employers. And according to a Russian newspaper, this process has been stalling, badly.
Airlines in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Turkey, sent over 600 such requests for previously fired pilots from Russia. That’s from late February to the middle of June. Of these, only around 100 got the necessary paperwork and found new jobs. It is worth noting that the countries above have not placed sanctions on Russian airlines.
According to the same source, the reason that Rosaviatsia is giving for such refusals is the “impossibility to disclose personal data”. But interestingly, it seems that this situation in Russia isn’t entirely new – nor does it only affect fired pilots. Since 2016, the Russian aviation regulator has reportedly been reluctant to let pilots leave the country.
At this time, Rosaviatsia gets around 70 requests per month, from foreign carriers looking for information for Russian pilots. The authority is not confirming these numbers officially. However, Russian authorities worry that this pilot exodus could create a pilot shortage when the situation improves.
Some airlines in Russia claim that they have now rehired or rostered pilots that they previously fired or furloughed. So for the summer season at least, these pilots will be busy. Aeroflot claims that it hasn’t fired or furloughed any of its pilots. However, their flying hours have dropped. This is affecting pilot income, with pilots of long-haul aircraft suffering the worst.
Other airlines in Russia haven’t fired any pilots, thanks to alternative approaches. S7, a private Russian carrier, sent some of its pilots to work in the United Arab Emirates. They did so on a fixed-term contract, until September. This will allow pilots to remain familiar with international operations, including practising their English.
Finally, like elsewhere, Russia’s commercial pilot pool has a demographic problem. Over one in three pilots in the country have an age of between 50 and 59 years. 59 is currently the retirement age for pilots in the country.