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Foreign pilots reach for the sky in China

(China Daily)

08:21, September 23, 2011

Roy Weinberg, once a pilot with US Airways, is now a captain for Spring Airlines in China. (Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily)

After spending much of his career with the same airline, Roy Weinberg was, not to put too fine a point on it, bored.

So, about a year ago, the 48-year-old quit his job with US Airways and moved to Shanghai to work as a captain for Spring Airlines.

"I had been doing the same job for 20 years and have another 15 years to go," said Weinberg, who moved to Shanghai before bringing his family of four along.

"I said to myself, 'It's too boring. Let's do something else for a few years and then come back'."

He is not alone. Many of his aviator friends are now flying for airlines in Chengdu and Beijing, he said.

The companies, he said, have a strong demand for foreign pilots, especially younger ones. Spring Airlines, for example, employs a team of 30 foreign pilots, and Hainan Airlines has 46.

By the beginning of 2011, China was home to at least 1,300 foreign flight captains, according to Li Jiaxiang, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

With the expansion of Chinese airlines, a serious shortage of talent has arisen. By 2015, China's aviation industry is expected to need 18,000 more pilots, according to China Business News.

"One of the chief reasons why we are desperate for foreign pilots lies in the long amount of time it takes to prepare our own aviation workers," said Zhang Wu'an, spokesman for Spring Airlines. Training a flight captain in China takes about 10 years, he said.

"Water that's far away doesn't do you much good if you are thirsty now," he said. "The quickest way to supply our needs turned out to be to hire foreign pilots."

A senior manager of a mainland cargo airline, who did not want to give his name, said that when the company was faced with a shortage of flight captains, it quickly began to recruit foreigners.

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