In the realm of aviation, the cultural dynamic continues to pose a host of implications for expatriate pilots both on and off the ground. Managing the inevitable culture shock faced by many pilots working in the rising aviation markets of the Gulf States and East Asia is an important factor for both expat pilots and prospective job-seekers themselves. Indeed, the downsides of cultural disorientation extend well beyond a simple faux pas at one end of the scale to encompass alarming legal ramifications on the other. But what factors should pilots consider prior to accepting an expatriate position?
Typically, an expatriate pilot position poses a rewarding opportunity on account of comparatively higher salaries and a range of other fringe benefits including exclusive housing allowances, medical insurance, increased time off, taxation advantages, foreign bases and other enticements that are not accorded to local pilots. For instance, Cathay Pacific Airways offers its expat pilots a housing allowance that accounts for around 40% of total income, while local pilots are not granted the same benefit. Such circumstances can (and have already) fostered contention within an organisation.
‘Conducive to the high rates of airline industry growth predicted for Asia and the Middle East over the next three years is an ever-increasing dependence on an expatriate pilot base. The Middle East market, although small in size, has shown exceedingly high rates of growth led by Emirates Airlines and more recently by Qatar Airways and Etihad. Further to this, it is predicted that in the next 20 years Middle East airlines will seek to recruit around 32,700 trained pilots sourced largely from abroad to satisfy the growth in demand. For some time now, the Gulf States have witnessed an influx of various nationalities engendered through a vast expat base not solely in the aviation sector,’ commented the CEO of AviationCV.com, Skaiste Knyzaite.
While the multicultural environment of the Arabian Gulf may lend to certain liberties and a more worldly sense of understanding, it is vital for expats to note that certain customs are expected to be observed throughout the region. Specifically, there is a more conservative approach to dress and behaviour which foreigners are obliged to follow as well as mandates covering the consumption of alcohol, cohabitation of unmarried persons, the practice of adultery and homosexual activity – factors which may be routinely ordinary or otherwise permissible in the expat’s home country. In one particular case, two Emirates cabin crew were sentenced to 3 months in a UAE prison after they were found to have been sending lewd SMS messages. The court upheld the charge of their “coercion to commit sin through extramarital relations” – which is considered a felony in the country.
Culture shock is not exclusive to airline pilots in the Gulf States however, as several airlines of East Asia continue to seek foreign pilots to add to their already sizable expat base, measuring some 400 pilots for Korean Air and over 1,800 working for mainland Chinese carriers alone. Relocated pilots have reported to have experienced cultural disorientation in the form of alien organisational cultures, differing standards of hygiene, indirect manners of communication, disillusionment with food, traffic safety and of course, the ubiquitous language barrier. There are also more fundamental issues involving the cultural interplay of disputes with management over conditions of false information or misunderstandings regarding work conditions, contracts, licenses, housing, or other matters which are of pivotal importance to expat pilots.
S. Knyzaite, CEO of AviationCV.com, suggests that ideally, expat pilots should become versed in the customs and standards of behaviour prior to relocation in order to alleviate the likelihood of confrontation. Culture shock remains a very real prospect however and one particular study at the University of Calgary documented several methods of dealing with this dilemma. Central to the report is the understanding that culture shock is an intrinsic response – a multi-stage process of initial bewilderment, followed by hostility, self-imposed disaffection and a gradual shift towards adjustment – the recovery stage. In essence, dealing with culture shock involves mitigating the debilitating effects of severe cases that result in a breakdown or withdrawal during the early stages of the process. Specifically, acknowledging that the process is natural and time-limited, by taking efforts to learn the host country’s language, to interact with expats who share/d similar circumstances, to interact with the local community whenever possible, to ‘deconstruct’ instances of cultural frustration into the mere nuts & bolts of the situation, as well as to monitor warning signs of negative behaviour, including infinite regress, excessive drinking or feelings of animosity.
‘Although the prospect of an aviation career overseas strikes many benefits in face of the few challenges it presents, there are ways to circumvent needless hassles for the fresh-eyed aviator seeking to work abroad. Indeed, the activities of many flight crew leasing agencies like AviationCV.com are well equipped to advise pilots prior to a relocation abroad of possible cultural issues and concerns that affect their working careers and family lives in the host country. In addition, their expertise goes further to assist airlines through objective pre-screening of candidates according to cultural adaptability and other concerns,’ asserts S. Knyzaite.