BRIGHTER SKIES

Aus­trian pilot’s ca­reer takes flight in new coun­try

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By WANG WEN Wang­wen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Vet­eran air­line pilot Wolf­gang Muller, 54, is right at home in the cap­tain’s seat of a Hainan Air­lines Air­bus A340.

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