China / Society

Number of pilots rises, but more are needed

By ZHAO LEI (China Daily) Updated: 2015-03-03 08:45

Commercial airlines no longer struggling as demand in other sectors grows, experts say

China has seen a rapid increase in the number of commercial pilots, but the shortage of aviators in the general aviation sector still exists, industry insiders said.

By the end of 2014, there were 39,881 people on the Chinese mainland who have a valid license to fly civilian aircraft, 12.3 percent more than the previous year, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a report released on Sunday.

The figure indicates the lack of commercial airline pilots has been substantially alleviated, it added.

Among the pilots, 2,533 had a private license, and 20,970 owned a commercial license. Most of them worked for airlines, flight schools, flying clubs or government agencies.

Female pilots increased by 45.3 percent to 449 by the end of last year, and 2,976 overseas pilots held valid licenses granted by the administration, according to the report.

Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 are the top two aircraft that licensed pilots register to fly.

"Currently, there are enough pilots at major airlines, so the once fierce struggle for commercial pilots has ceased," Wu Peixin, an aviation expert in Beijing, said on Monday.

"However, as far as I know, the general aviation industry still runs short of pilots, which greatly hinders its growth," he said. General aviation refers to all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services, and ranges from helicopters to private jets.

"The Civil Aviation Administration's projection shows that 20 years from now, general aviation in the nation will be much the same as that in the United States today," Wu said.

"If its calculation is correct, we will need up to 500,000 general aviation pilots. But now I think there are fewer than 3,000 pilots working for general aviation companies. In the coming 10 years, China will need at least 15,000 new aviators to join the general aviation sector each year."

By the end of 2013 the US, which operates more than 300,000 general aviation aircraft, had at least 24,000 airports and landing points that can handle transits made by such aircraft.

By comparison, China had just 1,654 general aviation aircraft and 399 airports and landing points dedicated to such aircraft, according to industry statistics.

Wang Zhiqing, deputy head of the Civil Aviation Administration, previously said that China will have more than 5,000 general aviation aircraft in 2020, with an annual gross product generated by the industry reaching to $15.5 billion.

The sector's bright outlook highlights the importance of training and recruiting more pilots, he noted.

Wang's administration has relaxed standards in theoretical exams, flight tests and physical conditions set for flight students to encourage more people to learn to fly.

In addition to pilots, the general aviation industry also lacks personnel for operations, ground services, and technical maintenance, said Chen Bin, a researcher with the Sino-US joint venture Easyfly Aviation Co.

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