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Foreign Pilots on the Horizon for Air China
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Foreign pilots are to be brought in by the nation's flagship carrier to meet the demand of its expanding air fleets.


Air China said it was planning an overseas recruitment drive because it was suffering a severe shortage of pilots.


"Air China has planned to introduce 20 to 30 airplanes within this year, but the exact number will depend on the supply of aircrew members, particularly the pilots," said Li Huxiao, a senior staff from the Beijing-based airline company.


"Currently, we are short of at least 40 captains, so we will try to recruit foreign pilots," Li said.


He gave no details about the exact number of foreign pilots his company planned to recruit.


Air China's problems reflect the fact China's booming commercial aviation industry is taking off faster than the country can train pilots.


According to statistics from the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), the industry regulator, about 11,000 pilots are employed to fly more than 770 aircraft operated by the major Chinese commercial airlines a figure industry experts say is inadequate to cope with rocketing demand for passenger services.


The Civil Aviation Flight University of China, the nation's major training school for commercial airline pilots based in Sichuan and Henan provinces, graduates a maximum of 600 pilots a year.


Based on the delivery of new aircraft, industry experts estimate that China has needed between 1,200 and 1,600 new pilots every year since 2000.


To the major State-owned airlines such as Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, another increasing challenge is the expansion of private carriers in the country, as pilot headhunting frequently occurred to the companies from last year.


Ten captains from the Jiangsu Branch of China Eastern Airlines asked to resign in December, something that had never happened before the growth of private airlines.


In the context of the rapid growth of civil aviation industry, the shortage of pilots, particularly captains, is a serious problem, said Hao Yuping, deputy senior director of Air China.


(China Daily February 14, 2006)

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