Finding Work, a World Away

A few weeks ago we reported on an upcoming job fair being put together by Wasinc International, China's largest pilot placement firm, and hosted by Pan Am International Flight Academy at its training centers in Miami and Las Vegas. What was unusual about the event was the airlines being represented. There were 12 Chinese carriers in attendance, all of them desperate to fill pilot seats in the fastest growing economy in the world. How did it go? The job fairs were held this past weekend, and the airlines there hired nearly 100 U.S. pilots on the spot.

I took a closer interest in the event because I was just down at Pan Am getting my commercial multi rating and plan to go back for a type rating. Greg Darrow, Pan Am’s head of sales and an airline captain himself, said the job fairs were the first of their kind and reflected the explosive growth of aviation in China. “For a guy with no wife and kids, going to China to fly would be an adventure of a lifetime,” Darrow said. “It’s really an amazing place.”

I couldn’t imagine dropping everything and signing on with a Chinese carrier to fly who knows where, with who knows who, in who knows what, living who knows where. But I also have to admit that the chance to pursue a flying career in a far-off land probably holds great appeal for a certain type of individual with an adventurous spirit – and who knows, maybe that's true even for many pilots with a wife or husband and kids in tow. But for many others, the opportunity to fly in China holds appeal merely because flying in America no longer does.

Of the 250 or so pilots who attended the Miami event, many of them were current or former American Airlines pilots, as well as current and furloughed pilots for other U.S. airlines. John Eimann, a former Marine Corps Harrier pilot and furloughed 737 and 767 first officer at American, said he attended the job fair to see what other options are available. “People in my situation are at a loss because we have a lot of first officer time but because we’ve been at a stagnant airline we haven’t been able to move up to the left seat,” he said. “My impression is that the Chinese airlnes are going after the big fish, pilots with enough PIC time to qualify right away."

Doug Leister, a current left seater at American, said he was looking at flying in China because the U.S. airline industry has become more focused on the bottom line, to the determent of the employees. “Over the last several years in the United States, the airline industry has been successful in providing a steady degradation of an airline pilot’s career,” he said. “As Captain Sully told Congress, he can’t recommend anyone in his family pursuing an airline career because it’s gotten so bad. Compensation levels in Asia are higher, and they run their airlines like we used to run ours in the 1960s. I’ve given up quite a bit over the last 10 years to make it work here.”

Now the scores of U.S. airline pilots who received job offers at the event are hoping to make it work halfway around the world. The Chinese airlines that attended the job fair said they were pleased with the quality of the candidates, and there are likely to be more events like this in the future. What impact such a trend could have on a predicted pilot shortage in the U.S. is impossible to say, but one thing at least is clear. Chinese airlines are facing a pilot shortage of their own, and they’re doing something about it.

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