Pilot navigating a new career
Captain brings 33 years of experience to nation’s skies
Wolfgang Muller takes a 10-hour “commuter flight” every two weeks all the way from Vienna. The Austrian pilot, who’s an Airbus A340 captain, came to work for Chinese airlines along with five former colleagues in 2007, after his former employer (Austrian Airlines) sold its A340 fleet to cut costs.
After a short stint at China Eastern Airlines, Muller, 54, moved to Hainan Airlines in 2009. He plans to retire from the carrier in six years.
Technically, it’s no problem moving to a Chinese airline, said Muller, who has 33 years of flying experience. The flight operations are the same everywhere.
But getting licensed in China took four months.
And “the process is getting harder, as I know someone who took more than one year on it,” Muller said.
The high salary is a draw for the foreign captain. Muller makes about $15,000 monthly, almost twice a Chinese captain’s income.
“I have no criticism of the salary,” he said. “But it is not the most important thing for me.”
The foreign pilots working in China are shifting their focus from money to a better life, which includes good working conditions and more time off, he added.
Muller spends two weeks in China every month, clocking 80 hours of flying time, and then goes back to Vienna and home.
His only daughter is waiting for him there, and the 10-year-old girl complains every time he leaves.
But Muller said his wife totally understands his job, because she is a flight attendant for Austrian Airlines. “We are the typical airline couple,” he added.
His family does not plan to move to China with him yet, although they visit on vacation every summer.
“We do not want to relocate, since our family and friends are in Austria,” Muller said, and the pollution in Beijing is also keeping his family from living in the city.
Few foreign pilots bring their families to China, said Peng Fengjuan, who assists foreign pilots at Hainan Airlines
“The environment and schools for their children are their concerns,” she said. Only one out of more than 50 foreign pilots working from the carrier’s Beijing base has brought his family along.
Muller lives in a hotel near the Beijing Capital International Airport, and work takes up most of his time in China.
“I have been to many cities in China, but I have no idea about those cities, except for the visibility there,” Muller said with a loud laugh.
On the occasional day off in Beijing, he walks in a park or has dinner at his favorite Japanese restaurant, which is not very far from the airport.
Some of his colleagues have rented apartments in Beijing, but Muller said he prefers staying in a hotel.
“It is very convenient,” he said. “I know almost every staff member at the hotel, and it is like my second home.”
Muller has also made friends with some Chinese colleagues, although he found it a little difficult to get close to the Chinese pilots at the very beginning.
“Maybe they are too shy, or maybe language is a barrier,” he said. It isn’t a problem anymore, after working with them for a long time, he added.
Veteran airline pilot Wolfgang Muller, 54, is right at home in the captain’s seat of a Hainan Airlines Airbus A340.