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Working as a pilot with Israeli passport? Challenge accepted.

Being an airline pilot may be a childhood dream for some of us. A dream that requires dedication, perseverance, and, sometimes, utter bullheadedness to achieve. But, the good news are: once flight training and initial internship phases are over, we can chose from many options of pilot employment. The salaries are high and rising. The employment conditions are great and getting even better. American and European passport holders have airline jobs-galore to chose from in the US and the EU; citizens of China and SE Asia have no issues getting employment in their regions; Middle Eastern countries have a major deficit of pilots as well.

And Israelis... well, Israelis have a very different ballgame to play. Let’s talk about that.

Israeli pilots will face a number of unique challenges, unique to Israeli citizens only. Airline pilot employment options in Israel are very limited: this small country does not have a lot of land, so all the airlines are focusing on flying internationally. El Al is the main Israeli airline. It has an established scheduled international service and a comparatively large fleet of wide-body aircraft, such as Boeing 747 and 777. However, El Al pilot is one of the most elite jobs in Israel (not just an “elite airline job” – it’s the most elite job, period!) and it is normally limited to exceptional graduates of the Israeli Air Force military pilot training curriculums, and decorated ex-IAF F-15/F-16 pilots. Guys and gals who underwent flight training at civilian aviation academies in Israel or abroad, even though fully certified and experienced enough to fly the airliners – have very little to no chance getting into this prestigious club right after the flight schools. Arkia is another Israeli airline, but with a smaller, more regional focus. It operates a fleet of ATR turboprops, and has scheduled service within the country, as well as short-haul international flights. The problem here, is that even though the airline is more open for employment of purely civilian pilots, it does not pay a deserving wage and pilots can expect to fly 30-minute turboprop legs their entire career. Knowing pilot’s mentality and their constant strive for “bigger, higher, faster”, this type of arrangement is just a deal breaker for many. 

So, what else can Israeli pilots do?

First, a little about the WPS (world pilot shortage). At the moment, the highest shortage of pilots is felt in the Eastern, South-Eastern Asia and the Middle East: China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and so on. The reason why pilot deficit in these countries exists, in because a lot of them lack the quintessential upper-middle-class: most of the population body is divided into the working class that lives below the poverty line – people who could never dream of paying over a hundred thousand US dollars for flight training; and the rich elite – people who would not be interested in flying commercial airplanes. The resultant upper-middle class vacuum was what cased and will continue to cause this flight crew crisis, until countries achieve a higher level of development and the middle class starts to expand and flourish, reaching Western standards of living and wealth. So, national and regional airlines of these countries have been actively hiring qualified foreign airline pilots for the last ten years, with the forecasted escalation of pilot shortage and, therefore, pilot salaries, until 2035, and even further. Hence, a lot of pilots from the US, Australia, EU and other developed countries, where wealthy upper-middle class has means of affording costly pilot training, and where aviation infrastructure has ability to support high quality aeronautical education, have been electing to take flying jobs abroad in justified hopes of making a gist of quarter million dollars per year in tax-free wages.

Needless to say, that, due to political reasons and boycott of Israel by many of the aforementioned countries, pilots who hold Israeli passports are likely to face some difficult challenges: all of the middle eastern countries are, pretty much, closed for them. Some of the most populous SE Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, would not employ Israeli passport holders, as they don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. So, that one country, where most Israeli pilots are able to find employment in is... China. Yes, the Chinese pilot crisis is at all times high. Chinese government is projecting a deficit of 11,000 pilots by 2030. This means that most of those aviators will have to come from abroad. China has a very well established diplomatic relations with Israel, and it had been this country’s ongoing policy to hire Israeli citizens for the demanded positions of national importance, such as engineering projects, textile development, medical equipment and pharmaceutical research, foreign languages education and, of course, flight crew staffing. AJAP aviation experts estimate that over a thousand Israelis are currently employed by Chinese, Hong Kong and Macau aviation companies as airline and charter pilots, flight instructors and aviation project managers. 

So, what about the Americas? Well, the US and Canada are not currently hiring foreign pilots for full-time, unlimited term positions, since one needs a permanent resident visa to work in these countries. The only thing that Israeli citizens can do in the US is undergo a valuable pilot internship after their training and build the initial 1500 hours of flight time to achieve a much needed ATPL – airline transport pilot license. So, the Caribbean and South/Central America – to the rescue! Some countries in these regions, such as Panama, are hiring international pilots to operate their aircraft across the entire continent. Many island in the Caribbean are hiring foreigners too. All countries in the Americas have positive diplomatic relationships with Israel, so hiring qualified Israeli pilots does not pose any routing or scheduling issues for the airlines. And, despite the fact that their salaries are not as high as the ones offered in Asia, it is a great way to build jet time and gain necessary experience to move on to better paid pilot contracts elsewhere.

So, is there a hope for Israeli airline employment? Yes, we believe there is. Finally, El Al has relaxed it’s hiring criteria and, as of 2015 started to take on modestly experienced Israeli pilots who came from a purely civilian backgrounds. Of course, the pilots are still expected to pass several psychometric and aptitude tests, but if they already have over 500 hours on any passenger jet as first officer, El Al is willing to give them a shot. El Al is starting to depart from the “all air force boys club” mentality and adopt a more reasonable approach towards pilot hiring. Same goes to Arkia and other regional charter operators.

In conclusion, we do think that Israeli aviation and Israeli pilots alike, have a very bright and wealthy future ahead. Pilot deficit is not going to subside for the next 20 years. We expect it to open even more employment opportunities around the World for our pilots, as well as have a safe and secure employment options at home, in Israel.

Article by Yossi Msokovitch, © AJAP.US 2017

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