China’s great need for airline pilots is well documented, not least by Boeing, which last year estimated that the country’s fast-expanding air transport industry will need some 77,400 pilots through 2032 (plus 93,900 mechanics). According to the airframer, that represents around 40 percent of the overall requirement across the Asia Pacific region over the same period. The question is how can a country with effectively no indigenous general aviation community cultivate so many future professional pilots, as is so commonly the case in the West?
TransPac Aviation Academy in Phoenix, Arizona, stands at the forefront of efforts to fill that skills gap by nurturing and training China’s next generation of flight crew. In March, 29 Chinese students graduated from the academy with the backing of Hainan Airlines and West Air 2 Airlines. According to TransPac CEO Stephen Goddard, the school now trains some 400 of the 2,000 Chinese pilots he estimates will undergo instruction each year. By comparison, the Civil Aviation Flight University of China graduates between 600 and 800 pilots each year. The TransPac pilots leave Phoenix with an FAA commercial pilot license with the turbine engine add-on rating required by Chinese authorities. They then undergo a license conversion process back in China.
The academy has worked hard to develop a holistic process aimed at helping students fully adapt to their chosen career and take account of their need to adapt to the life of an international airline pilot. After the Chinese carriers have conducted an initial selection of the prospective ab initio trainees, TransPac instructors screen them further. The recruits undergo initial aptitude and English language testing in China, and the successful candidates then go through a six-week program of ground school and English instruction before making the trip across the Pacific to the U.S.
“Among other things, we are trying to determine their motivation and attitude and the early part of the program can be pretty tough for them,” Goddard told AIN. The failure rate for the full training program has dropped to just 2 percent from 10 percent, thanks to more thorough early screening and preparation. A lot of the Chinese trainees come with an engineering or math background, but one of the recent graduates had trained as an actor.
During training in Phoenix, the students learn to fly in the Piper Archer III, Piper Seminole and Beechcraft King Air C90 aircraft. They also receive instruction in various simulators and flight training devices. But, crucially, they also get full immersion in the English language—a key difference from the experience of undergoing training solely in China, where the society still considers an airline pilot career highly prestigious. Commercial pilots operating in and out of the Beijing airports must have a command of English, even if flying domestically. “[Flying at TransPac] helps us to use English, and it helps us to fly international flights,” commented Chao Chi, one of the most recent batch of graduates.
TransPac also is training pilots for carriers from other parts of Asia, including a group of 60 self-sponsored Vietnamese students.