Foreign Pilots Offered to ‘Live Like a King’ If They Just Sign On with China

August 18, 2016, 9:51 AM UTC
China's First Boeing 787-9 Aircraft Makes Its First Flight To Chengdu
CHENGDU, CHINA - MAY 26: (CHINA OUT) Crew members walk down from the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport on May 26, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China. China's first medium-sized Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft purchased by Air China from Boeing Factory, America, makes the first flight named CA4102 from Beijing to Chengdu after nearly three hours on Thursday. The Boeing 787-9 is the latest model of Boeing 787 series. Air China will schedule the aircraft to operate Beijing-Shanghai, Beijing-Guangzhou, Sanya-Beijing-Frankfurt, Beijing-Rome routes in the future. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Air travel in China is taking off, with analysts projecting traffic in the skies to expand by almost four times in the next 20 years.

There’s just one pressing problem: a shortage of Chinese labor.

That’s why airlines are turning to overseas headhunters to recruit foreign talent, with the promise of glitzy expatriate packages that can, in some markets, make up to four times a pilot’s salary, according to Bloomberg.

“I looked at that and thought, ‘Man, I’m in the wrong line of business,’” said Dave Ross, president of pilot leasing firm Wasinc International who has been recruiting candidates for Chengdu Airlines. “They can live like a king.”

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Here’s a look at what they’re offering, according to the report from Bloomberg, citing a former United Airlines pilot who says he’s been inundated with offers from Chinese carriers:

Regional carrier Qingdao Airlines promises as much as $318,000 a year. Sichuan Airlines, which flies to Canada and Australia, is pitching $302,000. Both airlines say they’ll also cover his income tax bill in China.

Startup carriers barely known abroad are paying about 50% more than what some senior captains earn at Delta Air Lines (DAL), and they’re giving recruiters from the U.S. to New Zealand free rein to fill their captains’ chairs.


Boeing (BA) executives also spoke to China’s hungry aviation industry in an interview with Reuters published late Wednesday.

“We’re not seeing any softness yet,” said Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for Northeast Asia, pushing back against concerns that China’s slowing economic growth could drive down sales of its jetliners.

“We’re watching it close. But if I just look at the Chinese market as it stands today, I’m not seeing any signs of weakness whatsoever.”

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One factor weighing on the recruitment process is the observation that some foreign pilots don’t want to live in China, according to Richard Laig, a partner overseeing Asian business at consulting firm Mango Aviation Partners.

“There aren’t a lot of expat pilots who really want to go to China,” he told Bloomberg. “There are places that are more comfortable.”