Spring is in the air for pilots who lost jobs at Spanair

Updated: 2012-03-05 08:08

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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BEIJING - A month after Spanish carrier Spanair SA filed for voluntary bankruptcy, Shen Wei, deputy general manager of Spring Airlines, hopped on a plane to Spain last week, hoping to recruit experienced pilots who had lost their jobs.

After holding interviews, he made offers to 30 foreign captains at once. He expects that some might start working as early as the second half of this year.

"The company will add seven to eight new planes to its fleet by next year, but our own pilots won't be qualified to become captains until 2015," he said. "Foreign pilots are a good supplement."

The Shanghai-based airline, with a fleet of 30 planes, already has 32 foreign captains among its 300 pilots.

As carriers in the United States and Europe struggle with sluggish economic conditions, downsizing staff or filing for bankruptcy, it's getting easier for Chinese airlines to find foreign pilots.

While Shen was in Spain, nine other Chinese airlines were recruiting pilots in the US. From Feb 20 to 28, two job fairs were held in Miami and a third one in Las Vegas, hosted by Wasinc International, a pilot recruiting company, and Pan Am International Flight Academy.

The fairs drew some 850 pilots from the US, Mexico, Europe and South America. More than 80 received provisional offers from Chinese carriers, said Robin Li, general manager of Wasinc International's branch in China.

"Many of the pilots who came to the job fairs are not unemployed. Some came because they are attracted by Chinese culture, but most came because they were worried about their current jobs," he said.

"It has happened to many pilots who lost a job in a downsizing and landed a second job, only to find the second employer soon filed for bankruptcy. They want a stable job, and China, with a surging economy, can provide such jobs," he said.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China has forecast that nationwide, the number of pilots will rise to 40,000 from 24,000 in the five years ending 2015, as the civil aviation fleet expands by 11 percent annually.

China Southern Airlines alone, which has China's biggest fleet of planes, is looking to hire 725 pilots this year, including 100 from overseas. It employs 4,400 pilots.

In contrast to the large demand, media reports said that only 2,000 people graduate from all kinds of pilot training colleges and programs.

Chinese airlines have been seeking foreign pilots to make up the gap since the early 2000s. Some 1,700 foreign pilots were working in the country as of November, accounting for more than 6 percent of all licensed pilots, according to CAAC.

At some airlines, the percentage of foreign captains among all pilots has reached 20 percent, Shen said.

He added, however, that hiring foreign pilots was only "a transitional solution" and airlines had to train more pilots in China.

China Daily