China's Response To Growth Amid Pilot Shortage

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China is expecting to lead the region's demand for new commercial pilots as it takes delivery of more than 5,500 aircraft over the next two decades, and its current pilot population may already be stretching work hours to meet demand, so changes are likely coming. China's civil aviation had a shortfall of 10,000 pilots in 2012, Zou Jianjun, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China, told ChinaDaily.com.cn. The largest gap, Zou said, is with wide-body qualified captains, and air traffic is expected to grow. One pilot told the news agency he's already flying more than 90 hours monthly, "which is near the authority's upper limit of 100 hours." There are solutions in the works. Some bode well for foreign pilots. Others may bode well for foreign manufacturers. 

According to Zou, domestic airlines have started recruiting foreign pilots, but he sees this as a stopgap measure. Some Chinese carriers have sought to establish pilot training centers outside of the country because of China's aviation regulations currently make it difficult for new pilots to build flight experience. And that could persuade the country to take action regarding how it grants access to airspace. Says Zou, "The situation will change if low-altitude airspace is opened." In January, the Chinese government said it recognized general aviation as an economic engine and would be providing targeted funding to jumpstart the industry there. The country has been making slow progress, however, with its plans to open airspace below 1,000 meters, and private flights have been hampered by slow infrastructure development and a difficult control structure. The need for pilots may expedite that development.