Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Tue August 23 2016

Chinese Airlines Are Paying Big Money to Recruit New Pilots

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | August 23, 2016

Chinese Airlines Are Paying Big Money to Recruit New Pilots

Photo via Wikipedia Commons

Chinese Airlines are growing so fast, that by some estimates they would need to hire 100 pilots a week for 20 years to meet demand and staff the planes they'll need to add. These airlines are so desperate for staff, that are offering big salaries to those willing to make the move and willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

The economy in China has been growing at a break-neck speed, and Airbus predicts air travel within the country will quadruple over the next 20 years, which is a staggering pace. In just the past five years, twelve new Chinese airlines have popped up. Over 2,650 planes are now flying with Chinese airlines, nearly equivalent to the combined fleets of Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and Virgin America. Boeing says China will need an additional 6,330 planes within the next 20 years, in order to meet demand.

In the next five years, the number of airports in mainland China is expected to grow from 206 to 272, spending $11.7 Billion in 2016 alone. A new airport being built in Beijing, to open in 2019 with seven runways, is expected to handle up to 72 million travelers.

The Seattle Times reports that regional carrier Qingdao Airlines promises as much as $318,000 a year to draw pilots from all over the world to China. Sichuan Airlines, which flies to Canada and Australia, is pitching $302,000. Both airlines say they’ll also cover income taxes in China. The average salary for a senior pilot at a U.S. airline is around $209,000.

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The Chinese offering has to be a huge draw for pilots who are kicking off their careers, fresh out of flight school with a burden of debt on their shoulders — especially when they weigh the alternative of flying for a regional airline in the U.S., starting around $25,000 a year. Why would a new pilot want to make 25 grand per year when they can make that much during a month in China?

Even those who don’t want to live in China are being offered free flights to commute to and from home to visit loved ones. But once a pilot is hired for a Chinese carrier, it can take up to two years before the pilot actually gets to work. Documentation, work visas and medical clearances take a long time to get through the bureaucracy of the Chinese regulators.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the accident rate in the Asia-Pacific region last year was 3.2 per million flights, which is significantly higher than the global average of 1.8 per million. Chinese authorities are hoping western expatriate pilots will being cockpit experience with them.

To meet the demand for aircraft, China is even building two new planes on their own turf. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) ARJ21 (Asian Regional Jet for the 21st Century) just entered service this June — eight years behind schedule. It can seat up to 90 people, and fly up to 1,300 miles. A second plane is also in development, the COMAC 919. It’s China’s answer to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. Irish airline Ryanair even assisted its development. The single-aisle plane will hold up to 174 people and is expected to make its first flight this year, with first deliveries slated for late 2018.

The development of the two COMAC planes is one of a series of initiatives launched by the ruling Communist Party to transform China from the world's low-cost factory into a creator of profitable technology in aviation, clean energy and other fields.

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