Long-haul airline Etihad Airways will loan pilots to competing Dubai-based carrier Emirates under a new program, officials acknowledged Sunday, marking a rare cooperation between the two state-owned carriers who operate only 115 kilometers (70 miles) apart.
There’s always been competition between Emirates, founded by Dubai’s rulers in 1985, and Etihad, begun by Abu Dhabi’s rulers in 2003. But the secondment program between the two comes as Emirates faces a pilot shortage and Etihad still struggles with its business after last week posting a loss of $1.52 billion in the last fiscal year.
In a statement, Emirates described the move as “a common practice in our industry which gives airlines more flexibility in managing their pilot resources.” The Dubai-based airline did not offer specifics on the program, nor say how many pilots from Etihad would be flying with the carrier.
Etihad did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A letter sent to pilots from Etihad described the program as seconding pilots two years after they passed a selection process.
Emirates CEO Tim Clark acknowledged in April that the airline was “a tad short in pilots” and that could affect routes. Emirates has a fleet of 266 aircraft that fly to 160 destinations around the world. The airline made a profit of $762 million off revenues of $25.2 billion in the last fiscal year and its name graces sporting events around the world.
For Etihad, the airline has struggled. It suffered a second consecutive annual loss this year and has reduced its fleet from 119 to 115. Its strategy of aggressively buying stakes in airlines from Europe to Australia to compete against Emirates and fellow rival Qatar Airways exposed the company to major losses.
The two Mideast carriers also saw business hurt by President Donald Trump’s travel bans affecting Muslim-majority nations and stricter rules on electronics in cabins.
Emirates and Etihad are both government-owned airlines in the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula. Both compete in the long-haul carrier market, using their nation’s location between East and West to their advantage.