China-based airlines are putting up lots of cash to recruit foreign pilots

China southern airlines airbusWikimedia CommonsChina Southern Airlines

China is promising big paychecks in an effort to lure experienced foreign pilots to the country to meet skyrocketing air-travel demand.

As the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, China will have 7,210 commercial planes and 100,000 pilots over the next 20 years.

The country will need to hire 100 pilots per week over that period, according to a Bloomberg report published on Wednesday.

“When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring.’ It’s almost unlimited,” said David Ross, the president of Las Vegas-based recruiting company, Wasinc International.

Ross’s company serves more than a dozen of China’s mainland carriers, including
Chengdu Airlines and Qingdao Airlines.

Those startup carriers are barely known outside of China, but they have emerged amid the nation’s booming aviation market.

Chinese airlines are paying as much as five times more than some Asia rivals for new hires, and startup airlines are paying about 50 per cent more than what some senior captains earn at Delta Air Lines, Bloomberg noted.

Ross said a month’s pay for one pilot he placed at Beijing Capital Airlines was $80,000. By comparison, some US regional airlines still offer first-year salaries at or below $25,000, according to a March 2016 release from the Air Line Pilots Association, International.

“They can’t attract people through any other means,” Liz Loveridge, a recruiter at Rishworth Aviation in Auckland, told Bloomberg. “They think money’s the only answer.”

Besides money, geographical and cultural proximity make China especially attractive for Korean pilots — making Korea, now the biggest source of foreign captains who are recruited to China.

“It’s much better than flying in Korea,” Captain Park Kil-Jae, the first Korean pilot to join a Chinese airline,
told South China Morning Post. He has been flying A320s for Shanghai-based Spring Airlines for 10 years.

“If I want to go back I could. But I am very happy here now,” said Park, who speaks basic Mandarin now. “I feel I have turned half Chinese.”

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