Back in 2016, it was reported by CNN that China was the leading cause of pilot shortages in the world.
Chinese Airlines were tempting foreign pilots to come work for them with paychecks over $300,000 a year, tax-free.
It sounds pretty fantastic, and with Boeing predicting a major shortage (By up to 650,000 pilots) over the next 20 years, it seems like a career in aviation is more lucrative than ever.
“Some Chinese airlines are offering tax-free salary packages, which can be up to twice what western airlines offer,” said Murray Butt, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association.
Why is China paying so much?
China is a big country, with more people than you can imagine. And as they develop into a first world country and become the world’s greatest economy, they need to move these people around. And we all know that flying in the best way to do it (After all, this isn’t Simple Trains or Simple Boats!).
Hence China has become the next battleground between Boeing and Airbus, with the latter even trying to poach Boeing customers earlier this month. China currently buys the most planes out of anyone else.
But all these planes need pilots, and China is willing to do anything to get them.
How are they affecting the pilot shortage?
China needs pilots now, and whilst they are trying to train up their own people, they simply do not have the numbers nor the experience needed.
In the west, most major airline pilots flying the bigger planes such as 777’s or A380s are originally from the Airforce or have been flying for years. China needs that experience now, and they can’t get any locals to fly the bigger planes they have bought from Airbus and Boeing. Their own staff simply do not have the thousands of hours it takes to be a commercial pilot.
So they look to recruiting already experienced pilots with big paychecks. Which means that the western airlines can’t replace their aging crew rosters.
They have been poaching pilots away from the previous high paying airlines, Emirates and other Gulf carriers. So much so that it been reported that pilots now have to give a years notice before they can leave to another airline. China, on the other hand, is now offering a bonus of $40,000 USD if the pilot remains for three years.
“We’re a tad short of pilots,” – Tim Clark, Emirates CEO
The critical issue is that they need pilots with experience, who are already certified to fly the bigger planes. New pilots just out of flight school will have gain 1000s of hours before they can qualify for these high paying roles, typically on their own dime.
In 2018, China upped the ante by being proactive rather than reactive. They have been buying up pilot schools around the world.
“Chinese companies have been on a buying spree of foreign flight schools from Australia to the US and the Philippines to Canada, There are many very happy flight school owners who have cashed out, with some significant premiums paid.” – Mr Jebely, lawyer specialising in aviation speaking to Finacial Times
This is because, as of earlier this year, China only has 22 domestic pilot schools. Its a combination of several factors, the lead being lack of domestic airspace in which to practice. Students looking to fly have had to look elsewhere and find alternative places to fly.
Approx. 5000 students do this a year, funded by airlines back home. They are trained and pass through western certification, becoming fluent as they do so.
What do you think? Is being a pilot a good job in today’s economy?