Chinese airlines court Cathay pilots facing pay squeeze


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SHANGHAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chinese language airways are circling disaffected pilots at Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways (0293.HK), providing sky-high salaries to fill a scarcity of skilled captains in a quickly increasing aviation trade.

Dave Ross, President and CEO of WASINC Worldwide, poses beside a recruitment banner in Hong Kong, China November 20, 2017. Image taken November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Chinese language carriers, together with China Southern Airways (600029.SS), Hainan Airways (600221.SS) and Juneyao Airways (603885.SS), will want greater than 100,000 new pilots over the subsequent twenty years, in keeping with forecasts by planemaker Boeing Co (BA.N), as air journey takes off with elevated prosperity on the earth’s second-largest financial system.

China trains round four,700 new pilots a yr at dwelling and overseas, in keeping with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), however the trade’s sharp progress has left it in need of captains with a number of thousand hours flying expertise.

“Chinese language airways are rising so rapidly, and … it takes numerous time to grow to be a captain,” stated Xu Dandi, head of recruitment at Yu Feng Consulting, whose purchasers embrace China Southern and Loong Air. “Pilots employed in Hong Kong have probably handed strict assessments … and have expertise flying in Asia.”

Pilot recruitment companies have flocked to Hong Kong hoping to draw established pilots from loss-making Cathay, which has this yr axed 600 jobs in its greatest spherical of employees cuts in virtually 20 years.

Whereas Cathay will not be firing any of its 2,500 Hong Kong-based pilots, it has warned of cuts subsequent month to their housing allowances, which for some veteran captains could be price as much as HK$100,000 (£9621.38) a month.

Some Cathay pilots – who’re extensively thought to be among the many trade’s best-qualified and highest-paid – say cuts may worth them out of dwelling in one of many world’s costliest cities. Many are expatriate Australians, People and Britons.

“Most expat pilots could have a severe re-think … if the (housing) allowance is lower too drastically,” stated one among 9 Cathay captains interviewed by Reuters – none of whom needed to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Some Chinese language airways are providing tax-free pay packages of as much as $314,000 a yr, in keeping with job adverts. That’s roughly according to what Cathay captains can earn now, earlier than any allowance cuts. The airline can be seeking to scale back pensions and improve productiveness.


Chinese language airways use recruitment businesses to scout globally for pilots. Hong Kong was not beforehand a significant goal, however has come into focus as Cathay has struggled.

Longreach Aviation Sources advised Hong Kong media it acquired inquiries from 200 Cathay pilots earlier than it abruptly canceled a roadshow final month, citing authorized recommendation. It declined additional remark.

One other recruiter, Wasinc Worldwide, attracted 9 Cathay pilots on the primary day of a Hong Kong roadshow this week, and Yu Feng Consulting stated it plans an identical occasion primarily based on curiosity from mainland Chinese language airways.

“We look ahead to airways which might be having difficulties. Cathay has all the time been very robust and now they’re downgrading their pay a bit, numerous their pilots are fearful,” Wasinc CEO Dave Ross stated. “(Cathay pilots) have a popularity for being high-quality pilots, so numerous airways are focused on them.”

Cathay Pacific Chief Operations and Service Supply Officer Greg Hughes stated the airline was used to having its pilots courted by rival carriers.

“For 30-40 years, folks have focused our pilots and we don’t count on that to let up,” he advised Reuters. “Folks like working for us, and our (employees) turnover charges are low.”


As China’s airline sector has ballooned, it’s needed to import overseas expertise, with the variety of overseas pilots flying with Chinese language airways doubling to greater than 1,000 between 2010 and final yr.

In September, the CAAC relaxed a few of the trade’s strictest medical necessities – seen as an indication of how severe the pilot scarcity is.

Whereas Chinese language carriers might supply prime greenback packages, some overseas pilots who’ve moved to China warn of trade-offs.

4 expatriate pilots advised Reuters the downsides embrace an extended hiring course of; quick, Three-year contracts, with no union safety; gruel ling flight rosters handed to pilots at late discover; and a system geared in direction of penalizing pilots for errors somewhat than utilizing these to study security classes.

“The cash’s positively good, however folks contemplating the job – if that’s their major motivation – I don’t suppose they’ll final lengthy,” stated Mike Edelman, an American pilot who has flown for Juneyao Airways for almost eight years.

“You’ve bought to dedicate much more hours to work and … if you wish to final in China you’ve bought to be prepared to adapt to the tradition.”

The cultural problem was acknowledged by one of many Cathay pilots attending the Wasinc recruitment session.

“In Hong Kong, you already know what’s occurring … however working in China, it’s a overseas nation. There are points like transferring cash out, monetary safety and air pollution. These apart, China is now higher positioned by way of contracts than 10 years in the past.”


China isn’t alone in attempting to draw pilots.

Airways in Australia, Europe and North America are once more recruiting after a number of quiet years, and will show a horny various for some – though the seniority system utilized by most Western carriers, the place new joiners enter on the underside rank and wage rungs, no matter their prior expertise – would probably deter Cathay’s senior captains.

Of the 9 Cathay captains Reuters spoke to, some named non-Chinese language carriers together with Vietnam Airways HVN.HNO and Korean Air Traces Co Ltd (003490.KS) as potential choices, whereas others stated they’d contemplate non-flying jobs.

Three captains stated becoming a member of China Southern might be an possibility because it has bases in nations like Australia, the place pilots can return dwelling and fly to and from the service’s Guangzhou hub, although the pay can be lower than in the event that they moved to China.

“The cash isn’t every thing,” one stated.

“The attraction of dwelling of their dwelling nation, having household away from the air pollution and youngsters rising up again dwelling means most are prepared to be on much less pay.”

Reporting by Brenda Goh in SHANGHAI and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE, with extra reporting by Venus Wu and Anne Marie Roantree in HONG KONG; Modifying by Ian Geoghegan

Our Requirements:The Thomson Reuters Belief Rules.

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