China’s Push For Pilots

A Sign that there will be some changes in pilot pay over time as the demand increases, perhaps a while to happen here but already happening overseas.

Some Chinese airlines, reacting to rapid industry growth, are seeking to attract experienced pilots by offering salaries and benefits roughly double that of the average U.S. airline captain, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. Top salaries offered by some Chinese airlines exceed $225,000, and the country’s current pay leader, Hainan Airlines, is advertising pay packages up to $270,000 per year. That push is part of a surge that has over the past 18 months seen pay offers to foreign pilots rise by up to 30 percent, the Journal said. But with the pay comes a price.

According to one pilot who worked for a major Chinese airline in 2010 and 2011, the pay comes at the price of some of the longest duty times in the industry. And that situation may continue. China is only part of the Asian-Pacific region forecast by Boeing to need more than 180,000 new pilots by 2031. By Boeing’s estimate, the Asian-Pacific region will account for 40 percent of total pilot demand worldwide in the next two decades. And competition for attracting pilots may be on the rise globally. Currently, the foreign presence in China’s commercial pilot workforce accounts for only about 6 percent. In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists average pay for pilots serving as captains for major U.S. airlines at about $135,000, but it’s not clear if that number, too, may be on the rise. Recent changes to training requirements for airline pilots in the U.S. and forecast pilot retirements may put pressure on U.S. carriers to attract pilots, as well. That could further complicate matters for China, but may also lead to changes in how U.S. carriers seek to attract and retain pilots.