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Huge Cash to Lure Foreign Pilots Waded by Chinese Airlines

Huge Cash to Lure Foreign Pilots Waded by Chinese Airlines
To meet skyrocketing travel demand in the next 20 years, Chinese airlines need to hire almost 100 pilots a week. Chinese carriers are dangling lucrative pay packages at foreigners with cockpit experience having faced with a shortage of candidates at home.
He’s being bombarded every week with offers to fly Airbus A320s in China, said Giacomo Palombo, a former United Airlines pilot. As much as $318,000 a year is being promised by regional carrier Qingdao Airlines. $302,000 is being pitched by Sichuan Airlines, which flies to Canada and Australia. The income tax bills in China would also be covered by them, say both the airlines.
“When the time to go back to flying comes, I’ll definitely have the Chinese airlines on my radar. The financials are attractive,” said Palombo, 32, now an Atlanta-based consultant for McKinsey & Co. who said he was speaking in his personal capacity and not his employer’s.
According to Airbus Group SE, China would become the world’s busiest market as air traffic over China is set to almost quadruple in the next two decades. Startup carriers are giving recruiters from the U.S. to New Zealand free rein to fill their captains’ chairs and are paying about 50 percent more than what some senior captains earn at Delta Air Lines.
Dave Ross, Las Vegas-based president of Wasinc International says that pilots from emerging markets including Brazil and Russia can quadruple their salaries in China with some offers reaching $26,000 a month in net pay. Including carriers like Chengdu Airlines, Qingdao Airlines and Ruili Airlines, Wasinc is recruiting for more than a dozen mainland carriers.
“When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring. It’s almost unlimited,”’ Ross said.
While being offered free flights home to visit family members, the earnings for recruits preferring to live outside China are a bit less. Signing bonuses, overtime pay and contract-completion payouts are also on the negotiating table. The monthly paycheck of a pilot he placed at Beijing Capital Airlines was $80,000, said Ross.
“I looked at that and thought, ‘Man, I’m in the wrong line of business. They can live like a king,’” Ross said from Vienna, where he was interviewing candidates for Chengdu Airlines.
According to Aviation Consulting for senior pilots at major U.S. airlines such as Delta, the average annual salary is $209,000 in comparison. According to the Air Line Pilots Association, representing more than 52,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada, some U.S. regional airlines pay $25,000 or less,
The number of airlines has increased 28 percent to 55 in the past five years in China which is undergoing an aviation boom. According to Civil Aviation Industry Statistics Report, the fleet has more than tripled in a decade to 2,650.
Single-aisle jets such as the A320, which can seat about 180 people, is favored by the growing ranks of low-cost airlines. Carriers are scheduling more flights to handle demand with passenger numbers in China increasing 11 percent last year and hence require more captains.
According to Liz Loveridge, who’s responsible for China recruitment at Rishworth Aviation in Auckland, since they have minimal brand recognition and a limited performance record, offering a fat paycheck is the only option for the newest carriers. She said that as much as five times more than some Asia rivals is being paid by Chinese airlines for new hires.
“They can’t attract people through any other means. They think money’s the only answer,” Loveridge said.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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