Demand For Boeing 737 Pilots Is Drying Up In China

China’s demand for pilots for Boeing’s narrowbody aircraft is drying up. Previously, pilots of the type were being recruited from all over the world, enjoying salaries of some $300,000 in return for flying the Boeing 737. But now, as the grounding looks to stretch into its 10th month at least, hardly any airlines are recruiting for these specialists and the wages have contracted too.

boeing 737 MAX china getty
China has been hard hit with the 737 MAX grounding. Photo: Getty

No more $300,000 a year pilot jobs

The high demand for pilots in China used to mean foreign workers had their pick of the jobs. Many aviators trained on the 737 were enjoying annual salaries of $300,000 plus perks, due to a lack of local talent. At the end of 2016, Chinese airlines had 1,000 foreign pilots in their cockpits.

However, the ongoing grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX is changing all this. Bloomberg is reporting today that Chinese carriers are stepping back from hiring foreign pilots, as hundreds of aircraft are missing from their skies.

Andre Allard, founder and president of AeroPersonnel Global Inc., a Montreal-based pilot-recruitment agency that works in China, told Bloomberg,

“We’ve seen airlines suspend recruitment of 737 pilots, period. Many of these airlines had the Max on order. That evidently changed their plans.”

According to the report, Chinese airlines are still known to be paying above average wages for pilots, but demand for operators of Boeing’s bestselling narrowbody are starting to dry up. With no end in sight for the grounding, and certainly nothing changing soon, just a handful of the nation’s carriers are still recruiting for 737 pilots.

China was one of the places where the grounding of the 737 MAX had the greatest impact. We hear much about the impact on the US carriers, particularly Southwest with their fleet of 34. However, behind Air Canada and American Airlines, China Southern is the next biggest operator of the 737 MAX, or was before it was grounded.

China Southern has 24 of the type on the ground, Air China 16. Also suffering are Hainan Airlines with 11, Xiamen Air with 10 and Shandong with seven. Shenzhen, China Eastern and Okay Airways all have a handful of the type parked up.

China Southern 737 MAX
China Southern has the biggest grounded fleet in the nation. Photo: Boeing

Of course, this is not the whole picture. Some 300 737 MAX are owed to Chinese carriers, ranging from big orders of 50 planes for Air China to the smaller but significant order of 25 for Donghai Airlines, which would effectively double that airline’s fleet.

With no aircraft to fly and numerous airlines failing to receive the aircraft they were expecting, the impact on China’s pilot needs is significant.

More headaches for Boeing

Not only are Boeing in the limelight for all the wrong reasons in regard to the 737 MAX; the planemaker has a few other reasons to not exactly be feeling the Christmas spirit right now. Pickle fork issues have weighed heavily on the reputation of its 737 NG line, and scrutiny over production problems with the widebody 787 range add more woes to Boeing’s current list.

Added to this, the ongoing trade war between China and the US is making business between Boeing and the world’s fastest-growing aviation market somewhat tricky. The situation has already seen some airlines turning away from the US planemaker in favor of a more European option.

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Boeing has enough problems already. Photo: Boeing

On top of all this, China was the first country to ban the 737 MAX, bucking the trend of aviation authorities usually following the FAA. Indeed, CAAC was seen as something of a trailblazer in this particular situation, and will almost certainly want to undertake close inspections of the type before returning it to its skies.

With many Chinese airlines turning to Airbus for a solution, and China’s own 737 MAX competitor on the horizon, can Boeing come back from its current position?

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