The Chinese airline industry is attracting scores of South American pilots who see far better opportunity for career advancement with fast growing and startup airlines in the People’s Republic than in their home countries.
The pilots—largely from Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela—have answered calls to help alleviate a pilot shortage in China from the likes of Zhejiang Loong Airlines (ZLA), which started operations in December. Based in Hangzhou, Zheijiang province, ZLA became the first new private airline to launch commercial flights in China since 2007.
Next, Urumqi Airlines, a joint venture between Hainan Airlines and Urumqi Urban Construction Investment, plans to start operations by the second quarter. Others, namely Ruili Airlines, based in Kunming, and Qingdao Airlines, in Shandong, have also recently received their air operating certificates from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in Beijing.
According to a senior official at the CAAC’s Flight Standard Department, Li Narou, poor economic conditions in certain parts of South America have prompted experienced pilots to secure jobs with airlines in China and in other countries.
“These pilots have also been attracted by the remuneration package offered by Chinese carriers and they see good development opportunities for them in the long term,” Li said.
Currently, Chinese airlines, including Air China, employ more than 800 foreign pilots from Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Russia, Georgia, Norway and Bulgaria.
Li said airlines consider foreign pilots an asset for several reasons, not least because they help their Chinese colleagues improve their spoken English.
In 2001 the CAAC made it mandatory for those seeking admission to flying schools in China to first undergo a six-month English language course.
“It is not a smooth process for foreign pilots to secure employment in China as they have to go through several levels of assessment on flying and have to pass the CAAC Aviation Law examination,” Li stressed.
Other Chinese carriers that have hired foreign pilots include Sichuan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Okay Airways. Shenzen Airlines last hired South American pilots in 2004.
Sichuan Airlines became the first to hire foreign pilots in 2002, before which time authorities considered it taboo for any Chinese airline to hire non-Chinese flight crew.
A total of 18,200 pilots fly with Chinese airlines currently. Li said Chinese airlines will require between 1,400 and 1,700 new pilots every year to meet fleet and network expansion needs. He added that the Civil Aviation Flight University of China, the country's major flying school for commercial airline pilots, trains some 790 pilots a year while another 600 graduate from private flying schools.