China Luring Western Pilots

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Chinese airlines are reportedly offering experienced airline pilots more than $300,000 a year, tax-free, to work for them and that might be just the beginning of a bidding war for cockpit crew. China’s domestic airline industry is expanding far faster than its airlines can train their own pilots so the carriers are hiring headhunting companies to lure Western pilots to their cockpits. Some estimates place the demand for pilots in China at 100 a week for the next 20 years. “When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring,”’ Dave Ross, president of Las Vegas-based recruiting company Wasinc International, told Bloomberg. “It’s almost unlimited.” Passenger traffic in China increased 11 percent last year and there are twice as many domestic airlines (55) now compared to five years ago.

The best packages go to pilots willing to move to China but those who want to continue to live in their home countries can get free flights home in exchange for slightly smaller paychecks. There are also add-ons including signing bonuses, contract completion payouts and overtime. The carriers generally fly A320s and Boeing 737s but many are so new that their safety and performance records are unknown. Lacking any of the traditional leverage points that airlines use to recruit pilots, the Chinese carriers can offer only one incentive, New Zealand recruiter Liz Loveridge told Bloomberg. “They can’t attract people through any other means,” Loveridge said. “They think money’s the only answer.’’

 

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