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While the pilot shortage is well known, there is a less-documented local skills drain in Europe, as pilots have been heading to the Middle East and Asia for better paid roles with improved work patterns, according to a new report by aviation resourcing and HR experts AeroProfessional.

However, the gap could be plugged if Europe-based airlines offered slightly more competitive packages for pilots, as many would happily return home, according to the findings.

The report took in the views of over 820 European pilots who have worked outside the EU at some point in their career. Of those surveyed, 43% relocated to the Middle East, while the next most popular destination was Far East Asia, where 23% of respondents have worked.

When it came to reasons behind the move, the biggest factor was a better salary and benefits, as cited by 81% of respondents, while 32% were motivated by the tax savings, a real advantage held by the Middle East.

Many of the pilots surveyed said that they felt there was no future for them in Europe, while 39% of respondents revealed that they stayed abroad for longer than they expected.

The insight should prove an eye-opener for airlines, says Sam Sprules, director at AeroProfessional. He said, “This is a slightly damning verdict for the future of aviation in Europe. We’ve known about the pilot skills shortage for a long time and the impact it is having on European aviation but this report delves deeper; looking at qualified pilots within the industry and what influences have caused them to move to roles outside of Europe.

“Interestingly, it’s not the sunny climate or ex-pat way of living that lures pilots abroad. In fact, many of those surveyed stated that they would prefer to be able to move back to Europe as it would be better for their families. Quite simply, it comes down to pay and conditions.

“The good news is, these are easier issues to rectify than lifestyle based factors, so airlines in Europe really should aim to be more competitive. There are already fewer suitable pilots to choose from, so Europe needs to really step up and be more competitive in order to attract the best candidates from a diminishing talent pool”

Read the full whitepaper here