U.S. pilots are now working in far reaches of the world to fulfill the booming worldwide need for pilots. Commercial aviation is expanding most rapidly in China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. As these regions have grown more affluent and loosened aviation restrictions, travel demands have soared. New airlines have started up, existing carriers are adding routes, and hundreds of new jets are on order, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
So, like British and Australian pilots who long have plied their trade worldwide, more U.S. pilots are taking their skills offshore — often with better salaries and benefits than domestic airlines are offering. U.S. pilots are working as far afield as Bolivia, China, Qatar, and Vietnam. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines are hiring more Americans, as are carriers in Taiwan and South Korea, and increasingly, in India.
This is the result of a growing global shortage of trained commercial pilots. Aerospace giant Boeing Company estimates the global jetfleet will grow to more than 35,000 airplanes in 2024, from 17,000 in 2004. Boeing pegs demand for new pilots at nearly 18,000 a year through 2024. China alone will need more than 35,000 new pilots over 20 years, and the rest of Asia will need 56,500, the company estimates.
The result: A global bazaar where experienced pilots go to the highest bidder. Norwegians and Venezuelans are flying in China, Egyptians and Russians in India, Jamaicans and Iranians for a Japanese airline. Four out of five pilots at Qatar Airways are foreign. More than 70 Philippine Airlines pilots have quit since 2003 for better-paying jobs elsewhere. India’s fleet of startup carriers was so plagued by pilot poaching that the government last year began requiring pilots to serve at least six months at one carrier before moving on.
G.R. Gopinath, managing director for Air Deccan, a budget airline in India, says he’s been recruiting 12 pilots each month from overseas. Pilot job fairs in the U.S. have begun attracting recruiters for Chinese and Indian startups.
One former US Airways captain, now flying for Emirates Airlines, says he enjoys a high salary and excellent benefits. He says safety standards are high, and the airline’s 1,350 pilots from 70 nations speak fluent English. He says pilots are “treated with respect in this part of the world. We’re driven to work. We’re put in four and five-start hotels on the concierge floors.”
Phoenix East Aviation, a leading commercial aviation training academy in Daytona Beach, Florida, attracts students from all over the world. Over 60% of current students are from countries outside North America. Phoenix East Aviation has been training pilot candidates for airlines worldwide since 1972. See www.pea.com for more information.