RUNNING A profitable airline presents the formidable challenge of keeping business costs tightly under control while offering the levels of customer service and in-flight comfort that passengers in Asia expect.
Leading operators such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates and Dragonair realise that profits are driven largely by public perceptions of an airline's brand.
Clever marketing and promotions can only go so far in shaping these perceptions. The real test is the passengers' experience, which is why the quality of an airline's frontline staff, the services they offer and their attention to detail are crucial in building loyalty.
The starting point is to identify the right people and that often happens at events such as the walk-in recruitment drive being organised by Cathay Pacific on Sunday at the Renaissance Kowloon Hotel. The company is looking for in-flight cabin crew to fill as many as 900 entry-level positions this year. The basic principle will be to hire for attitude and train for skills.
To qualify for consideration, applicants must be at least Form Five graduates, fluent in English, Cantonese and Putonghua, and have a minimum arm reach of 208cm. They should be caring, mature, confident team players who get on well with others.
'It's a dynamic industry and we need proactive cabin crew who can deal with a variety of passengers on a day-to-day basis,' said Shirley Au-yeung, manager of cabin crew, in-flight services department, Cathay Pacific.
'Language skills and communication are also key factors, and we constantly encourage the right candidates to look for what best suits them.'
The training for new recruits includes an intensive six-week induction programme covering safety training, service skills, grooming, interacting with passengers and understanding different cultures. For someone joining as a flight attendant, career progression can lead to positions as flight purser, senior purser and in-flight service manager.
Driven by the demands of an increasingly competitive industry, Cathay is adding routes and considering the purchase of additional aircraft, which accounts for the need to keep hiring.
'Last year, we merged with KA [Dragonair] and we have built an even stronger platform in the industry following our close relationship with Air China. We aim to tackle the competition from low-cost budget airlines by consistently improving our services. In fact, our extensive network and frequencies make all the difference,' Ms Au-yeung said. This entails flying to more than 100 destinations in 35 countries.
Dragonair needs another 40 cabin crew as it adds routes and increases frequencies. With more than 400 flights per week to mainland destinations, the airline looks for staff proficient in Asian languages and different dialects.
The initial training programme lasts eight weeks and is designed to develop practical skills and a basic knowledge of the aircraft. It also covers first aid, quality service concepts and all the essential in-flight procedures.
In the past four months, Dragonair has added services to Phuket (Thailand) and Pusan (South Korea), and upgraded the Phnom Penh (Cambodia) service to daily flights. Extra flights are being introduced to Sanya (China) and Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia) this month.
Emirates is expanding and seeking to recruit pilots, cabin crew, engineers, salespeople and support staff. Last October, the airline took on about 10 staff for the opening of its lounge at Chek Lap Kok and the move to the airport's new Terminal Two later this month will make it necessary to hire extra personnel for the ground services team.
Whatever the position, successful applicants can expect to receive competitive remuneration packages. These include concessionary airfares when travelling for leisure and, for anyone based in Dubai - the airline's headquarters - there is the possibility of tax-free benefits.
Edwin Lau Wing-chu, regional manager for Emirates for Greater China and Northeast Asia, said: 'We are committed to providing a quality product - the best aircraft that money can buy, top-flight service and a competitive price.'