Skies too friendly for foreign pilots

Updated: 2012-09-06 02:22

By Wang Ying in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Domestic skies will not become a place where inexperienced foreign pilots can boost their flying hours to make their resumes more impressive, a key document from the civil aviation authorities said on Wednesday.

Jin Yibin, chief pilot at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said rigorous background checks will be carried out to make sure foreign pilots wishing to work here have the experience and qualifications to do so.

A white paper issued by the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology, said licenses have been issued to 1,778 foreign pilots.

Of these, 650 were working for Chinese airlines as of the end of June.

Foreign pilots are attracted by the rapid growth of the domestic aviation industry, especially at a time of global economic turbulence when many international airlines are introducing cutbacks.

They have "played a important role" in the industry, the white paper said.

However, the rapid influx of foreign pilots did bring problems.

Some airlines, trying to meet demand, rushed to recruit foreign pilots, who, while qualified, may not have had adequate experience.

Shanghai-based Juneyao Airlines was penalized last year after a foreign captain it hired refused to give way for an emergency landing of a Qatar Airlines flight. The incident triggered heated debate.

While acknowledging the contribution of foreign pilots, the white paper said some would be "phased out'' as more domestic pilots were trained.

"Some skilled and experienced foreign pilots will continue working for Chinese airlines, and they will become the backbone of these carriers. Some of the less skilled foreign pilots will be gradually phased out."

China should put more effort into training pilots and co-pilots, chief pilot Jin Yibin said.

Chinese airlines were once short of pilots but more and more domestic pilots are coming through, he said.

Pilots: Salaries have soared in recent years

"We must avoid the situation that China's aviation industry offers opportunities in gaining experience for foreign co-pilots but ignores training our own," he said.

According to Jin, by the end of 2011, China had a total of 1,758 student pilots awaiting further training in China's major airlines. This would provide a pool of talent for airlines, he said.

But Hsu Ping, junior vice-president of the pilot administration department at the flight operations division of Eva Airways, said that pilot numbers remain a problem.

It takes six to eight years to train a pilot for commercial flights, Hsu said, and Chinese airlines may have to employ foreign pilots for the foreseeable future.

Wang Weisong, a representative from Sichuan Airlines said that fierce competition has pushed up salary levels and foreign pilots are also asking for more holidays.

In a pilot recruitment fair held in Miami in February, Chinese airlines were offering pilot salaries of $200,000, about twice the salary of Chinese pilots hired in the top three carriers, the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News said.

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