China's Growing Hunger For Air Travel Has Created A Pilot Shortage

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Chin A380 South China Airline 2011 3
An Airbus A380 in the China Southern Airlines fleet

Over the next two decades, China will take delivery of 5,500 new aircraft as its airline industry grows to match the expanding spending power of its ever more affluent population. The problem is, China already has a shortfall of about 10,000 pilots, says Zou Jianjun, a professor at the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China.

China currently has the world's fastest-growing air travel market, with domestic traffic second only to the U.S.', expanding by 14.7 percent from June 2012 to June 2013, according to the International Air Transport Association. 

The rising middle class in China is flying a lot more than they did 10 years ago, and because of this more airliners are being ordered to keep up with demand. Around 800 aircraft are on order, with more than 2,000 already in the air, and finding locally trained pilots has proven troublesome.  

This illustrates a plethora of issues for the rapidly expanding economy, where training and infrastructure haven’t been able to keep pace with demand. But China isn’t the only one struggling to keep up. The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) estimates that the Asia-Pacific region will need 185,600 new pilots between 2012 and 2031, accounting for 40 percent of the entire global demand. Currently, the region has 26 percent of the world’s pilots, amounting to about 56,000.

A partial short-term solution for China has been to woo U.S.-based pilots with salaries upwards of $270,000 plus benefits, roughly double the average salary for a U.S.-based air captain.  

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