By Alexander Cornwell
DUBAI (Reuters) - Etihad Airways has told its pilots they can join rival Emirates on a temporary basis for two years, according to an internal Etihad email seen by Reuters, as the downsizing of the Abu Dhabi carrier's operations helps fill a pilot shortage for Dubai's Emirates.
Etihad, which last week reported a $1.5 billion annual loss, has been overhauling its business since 2016, replacing its top executive, dropping unprofitable routes and shrinking its fleet.
The agreement is also likely to help Emirates, where a pilot shortage forced it to cancel some flights this summer. Management had said the shortage was a short-term issue.
In the email, Etihad said pilots who join Emirates on a two-year secondment would be placed on a leave of absence, retain seniority at Etihad, and receive their salary and full benefits from the Dubai airline.
Pilots were asked in the email to register a non-binding expression of interest and told that Emirates' recruitment team would meet with pilots at Etihad's offices.
Two sources separately told Reuters that Etihad had emailed staff announcing the agreement with Emirates.
An Etihad spokesman told Reuters secondment programmes were common practice among airlines, enabling the effective management of pilot resources.
"This is something Etihad Airways has done for several years with partner airlines around the world," the spokesman said.
An Emirates spokeswoman told Reuters the airline was "working with Etihad on a secondment programme for some of their pilots."
It was not immediately clear how many pilots would be offered temporary employment at Emirates and the email stated that any pilots applying for the secondment would need to complete Emirates' training programme.
Etihad employs 2,200 pilots, according to the airline spokesman. Reuters reported in January that Etihad had offered up to 18 months unpaid leave to pilots.
Emirates and Etihad have been exploring closer ties and signed a security pact in January, the first agreement between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) based airlines. Emirates has since said that a closer relationship was not about a merger.
Emirates and Etihad, backed by their state owners, have competed developing global networks from their respective hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that are just 128 kilometres apart.
Emirates is owned by the government of Dubai, and Etihad is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, additional reporting by Stanley Carvalho in Abu Dhabi; editing by David Evans)