Landing in China

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-15 20:23:01

Increasingly, S. Korean pilots resign and head to their neighbor to work

Photo: CFP

A growing number of South Korean pilots are leaving domestic firms and choosing to work in China's booming aviation industry, lured by larger pay packets and better working conditions.

A quarter of the planes built by Boeing in 2015 are expected to be sold to Chinese companies, and the number of airplanes owned by Chinese airlines could triple in the next two decades, rapidly boosting demand for pilots, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported.

Chinese airlines hiring foreign pilots has long been common  to make up for the country's lack of aviators, said experts.

Leaving South Korea

A total of 217 South Korean pilots left local companies between January and September this year, according to a recent Korea Times report.

The number of pilots that left South Korea's two flagship carriers and five of the country's low-cost airlines was 155 in 2014, and 111 in 2013, the Seoul-based JoongAng Daily reported.

Half of the pilots that resigned from Korean Air went to work at Chinese airlines, Korea Times reported.

A Korean Air captain is paid $10,000 before tax a month on average, compared to the $20,000 after-tax income provided by Chinese companies, and usually have to deal with long shifts and only having short rests between flights, said the report.

Pilot's colleagues greet them by saying "You're still here? Why haven't you left?" Yonhap quoted Park Gyeong-cheol (pseudonym), a 35-year-old pilot for Asiana Airlines, as saying.

In July 2005, pilots from South Korea's top two airlines went on strike, demanding improved salaries, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Though South Korean airlines do not seem worried, saying the exodus is small-scale and that importing foreign pilots could fill the gap, Korean lawmakers are worried about the outflow.

"We need to come up with ways to stop this drain of technical expertise," said Byun Jae-ill of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

Fitting in

Although aviation experts and businesses reached by the Global Times said airlines choose their foreign pilots based on their routes, Korean captains made up the largest proportion of foreign captains working in China in 2014.

Among the 689 foreign captains working for Chinese airlines, Koreans ranked No.1 with 99 captains, followed by the US (92), with the employers of foreign captains being mainly new airlines established within the past 10 years, according to the 2014 annual report on Chinese civil aviation issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News reported Wednesday.

The appeal of Korean captains lies in the similar culture and standards of operation that Chinese and South Korean airlines share, Xiao Fei, an employee with the recruiting office of Spring Airlines, China's first low-cost airline, told the Global Times.

Also, the routes of long-range flights that leave from South Korea and China are similar, which means Korean captains can start flying for Chinese companies, said Xiao.

Yang Chao, an aviation expert with Air China Ltd told the Global Times that foreign captains can stimulate competition and bring new ideas to China's civil aviation industry.

However the prevalence of foreign captains is due to the insufficient supply of domestic captains, as it will take time for enough Chinese pilots to be trained to meet the rapidly increasing domestic demand, experts said.

The way Chinese and foreign pilots are paid is different, with most Chinese paid monthly in accordance with their flight hours and foreign pilots paid annually. Foreigners' incomes are usually much higher than Chinese colleagues, pilots at China's leading airlines told the Global Times.

Foreign pilots, have higher bargaining power in China because they themselves shoulder the considerable cost of becoming a pilot while the training of Chinese pilots is paid for by the government or airlines, which puts domestic pilots in a weak bargaining position, said Yang Chao.

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