Chi­nese air­lines seek to end pi­lot short­age

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By WANG YING in Shang­hai wang_y­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

Ma­jor air­lines in China have low­ered re­cruit­ment thresh­olds and in­creased train­ing bud­gets to lure more col­lege stu­dents and grad­u­ates into their cock­pits as a pi­lot short­age spreads across the coun­try’s boom­ing avi­a­tion in­dus­try.

In its lat­est pi­lot re­cruit­ment an­nounce­ment, China Eastern Air­lines, one of China’s three ma­jor com­mer­cial car­ri­ers, dou­bled its en­roll­ment to more than 300, the largest re­cruit­ment in the com­pany’s his­tory.

While such re­cruit­ment had usu­ally been lim­ited to prospec­tive stu­dents who are trained through a four-year col­lege-based pro­gram, this year the air­line has loos­ened the re­quire­ment.

It is now open to univer­sity stu­dents or grad­u­ates aged be­low 26 as long as they pass a phys­i­cal.

Ex­perts said the changes should help air­line com­pa­nies re­stock their fast-de­plet­ing pi­lot pipe­line.

In a re­cent out­look re­port, Boe­ing an­tic­i­pated there would be 226,000 new com­mer­cial air­line pi­lots and 238,000 new air­craft tech­ni­cians in the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion through 2034, with China tak­ing the largest share — 100,000 pi­lots and 106,000 tech­ni­cians.

While air­line ca­pac­ity can be quickly in­creased in a cou­ple of years by or­der­ing more jets, the train­ing of pi­lots, es­pe­cially cap­tains, takes longer, ac­cord­ing to Li Lei, an in­dus­trial an­a­lyst with Minzu Se­cu­ri­ties.

Com­pared with re­cruit­ing high school grad­u­ates into four-year col­lege-based pro­grams, train­ing suc­cess­ful univer­sity can­di­dates or grad­u­ates takes only two to three years, Li said.

China Eastern said it is look­ing to train pi­lots for its lat­est mod­els, in­clud­ing the B787 and A350.

The Shang­hai-based com­mer­cial car­rier, which op­er­ates a fleet of nearly 700 air­craft with more than 7,200 pi­lots, is not the only air­line feel­ing the pinch of a pi­lot short­age.

Spring Air­lines, China’s first and largest bud­get car­rier, es­tab­lished in 2005, wel­comed its 1,000th pi­lot last month.

As pi­lots are hard to come by in the mar­ket, the air­line in­vested 800 mil­lion yuan ($115 mil­lion) to build a pi­lot train­ing cen­ter at the China (Shang­hai) Pi­lot Free Trade Zone in Pudong New Area in 2013.

Over the past 13 years, the low­cost car­rier has trained 657 pi­lots, with an­other 150 peo­ple re­ceiv­ing ini­tial con­ver­sion train­ing an­nu­ally.

“We spare no cost in pi­lot train­ing to make sure all pi­lots mas­ter ex­cel­lent skills,” said Spring Air­lines Chair­man Wang Yu.

In Novem­ber, Boe­ing and HNA Group’s Hainan Sky Plumage Flight Train­ing Com­pany en­tered into an agree­ment to ex­pand pi­lot train­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in China and help meet the coun­try’s grow­ing need for qual­i­fied com­mer­cial pi­lots.

Un­der the agree­ment, Boe­ing will pro­vide pi­lot train­ing in­struc­tors for HNA Group, in­clud­ing for Hainan Air­lines, at the Hainan Sky Plumage train­ing cen­ter in Haikou, Hainan prov­ince, free­ing HNA pi­lots from train­ing du­ties and re­turn­ing them to their pri­mary pi­lot du­ties.

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