Pilot Shortage Hindering Startup Efforts in South Korea

 - June 5, 2019, 2:28 PM

A shortage of experienced pilots in South Korea looks sure to test recruiters at new low-cost carriers Air Premia, Aero K, and Fly Gangwon as they prepare to start operations in 2020 or 2021 at the latest. Under requirements set by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT), the carriers must employ a minimum of 12 pilots per aircraft (six captains and six first officers) before they start operations. The regulations also mandate start-up capital of $13 million.

The LCCs gained business licenses early this year and expected to secure their air operator certificates late in the second quarter.

According to an official at the MLIT in Seoul, Kim Jung Rak, the shortage continues to present a problem as airlines expand their fleet and network operations. “Start-up airlines are likely to find it more difficult hiring experienced pilots,” Kim noted. Another snag confronting the new LCCs involves a regulation that restricts the number of pilots startups can hire from competing airlines so as not to disrupt their operations. Kim declined to identify the exact number, however.

Air Premia plans to establish its base at Incheon Airport, AeroK at Cheongjiu International Airport, and Fly Gangwon at Yangyang International Airport.

The six Korean LCCs already operating—Air Seoul, Jin Air, Air Busan, T’way Air, Eastar Jet, and Jeju Air—control a 55.8 percent share of the domestic market, while Korean Airlines and Asiana Airlines hold the remainder.

A senior official at one new LCC who identified himself only as Jung said the LCCs must offer big paychecks, bonuses, and allowances to hire the limited number of available instructors and other pilots from the competition. “We need experienced pilots to start operations,” Jung pointed out.

An estimated 400 South Korean pilots work in China, where geographic proximity and cultural similarities prove attractive to expats from Korea—now the biggest source of pilots for Chinese carriers.