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Carriers set to boost local hires amid pilot shortage

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-09 11:40
An airplane of China Eastern Airlines. [Photo/IC]

Chinese carriers are exploring ways to recruit and train more talent locally to cope with the acute shortage of pilots and training facilities, amid surging demand for air travel in the country.

Currently, only a few major domestic airlines have well-established pilot training systems. Many small and budget carriers are yet to build their own pilot training mechanisms and lack training facilities like flight simulators.

Foreign companies, however, are looking to make inroads into China's civil aviation market by setting up more pilot training facilities. Avia Solutions Group, a Lithuania-based aviation services company, plans to establish a pilot training center in Zhengzhou, Henan province. The center is set to open in 2020, and will provide training services for Chinese airlines, it said.

In late July, the company signed a joint venture agreement with Henan Civil Aviation Development and Investment Co, marking the establishment of a new entity named BAA Training China. The center will be located in the economic zone of the Zhengzhou airport and is in close vicinity of the Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport.

"On average, it costs about $250 to $350 per hour to train a pilot with a simulator, depending on whether the training is carried out during daytime or nighttime," said Gediminas Ziemelis, chairman of the board of Avia Solutions Group.

"Currently, about 1,500 pilots who work for Chinese carriers are being trained abroad every year, and we are looking to fulfill the demand for pilot training in the country," he said.

With planned investment of more than $60 million, the center will be equipped with six flight simulators, including simulators for the A320neo, B737 NG and the B737 MAX. They will provide pilot, cabin crew and ground handling training, the company said.

The first flight simulator will be ready for use in the second half of 2020. Ultimately, the training center is set to offer 40,000 hours of training a year for 4,000 current and new pilots.

"There are more than 20 pilot training schools in China now, and the number of airports, airspace and route resources are quite tight. The training of pilots involves finishing multiple tasks listed in the syllabus, which calls for frequent use of related aviation resources," said Guan Lixin, principal of the Civil Aviation Flight University of China.

Facing the shortage of pilots, many domestic carriers have loosened their requirements on vision and height when recruiting new talent. Those who have taken operations to correct visions are also allowed to sign up for the hiring. Air China said the height of potential pilots should be between 168 cm and 188 cm, and the range has been expanded than before.

Virgin Australia, a leading global carrier, is in talks with a Chinese conglomerate, which is one of its shareholders, to open a pilot training school in Tamworth, New South Wales, to train Australian and Chinese pilots, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Over the next 20 years, US aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co predicted that worldwide, 804,000 new civil aviation pilots will be needed. The strong demand will come from a mix of fleet growth, retirements, and attrition, Boeing said in its latest pilot and technician outlook report.

In the next two decades, the Asia-Pacific region will lead the global growth in demand for pilots, with a requirement for 266,000 new pilots, including pilots for commercial flights, business aviation and helicopters, the report said.

Usually, it costs about 800,000 yuan ($114,300) to train an aspiring pilot for four years at a pilot training academy, and pilots need to take training for specific aircraft models for about a year after they graduate.

Besides, the Civil Aviation Administration of China requires that after one becomes a co-pilot, one needs to take additional training twice a year, which can cost about 120,000 yuan a year. After five years, pilots may become a captain, said industry reports.

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