Singapore Airlines (SIA) has shed about 12 per cent of its pilots in the last five years, amid a prolonged business slowdown.
The pool has shrunk from 2,331 pilots in March 2011 to 2,056 at the end of March this year. Some pilots left voluntarily, while others were asked to go.
Despite the attrition, SIA still has more captains than it needs, spokesman Nicholas Ionides said, without divulging actual numbers. This is partly due to first officers being promoted as part of their career development, he told The Straits Times.
The Singapore carrier has moved to reduce its pilot numbers through various initiatives in recent years, after stiff competition from rivals in the long-haul premium sector stunted its growth and expansion.
Its measures included offering voluntary no-pay leave and voluntary movements to subsidiaries such as Scoot and SIA Cargo.
The airline released its pilots who were on expatriate terms which included allowances for housing.
Captains who retire at 62 can be re-employed for just one more year, and provided they take unpaid leave for six months during the period. Previously, captains could fly until 65.
SIA also froze cadet pilot recruitment for three years from early 2012.
A pilot who declined to be named said: "I think it's fair to say there has been some unhappiness, which has prompted some pilots who don't see things getting better any time soon to leave for other airlines. And there is no shortage of airlines luring our pilots, especially captains."
Hainan Airlines, for example, has held several recruitment drives in Singapore, among other markets.
The Straits Times understands that during the latest one held here a few months ago, more than 20 SIA pilots accepted offers from the Chinese airline.
The perks it offered included flexible leave and a monthly pay of about US$25,000 (S$35,500) for captains. In a good month, an SIA captain makes $18,000 to $20,000.
"We are of course aware of recruitment by other airlines, which is not new. The number of pilots who have left to join other airlines is limited, and overall attrition rates for pilots remain very low," Mr Ionides said. He did not divulge actual numbers.
While business conditions remain challenging, SIA has started to grow again.
The airline has ordered 67 new Airbus 350s, which offer lower operating costs for long-haul flights than other similar-sized planes in SIA's fleet.
This has allowed SIA to expand into new markets, including launching non-stop flights from Singapore to San Francisco last month.
On whether more pilots will be needed to fly the new planes, Mr Ionides said: "We do expect pilot numbers to increase as we expand, but we are not able to share figures."