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US Pilots Fly to China, Stay There

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Earlier this month, we wrote about a report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund that had dogs running away screaming -- or at least it would have if they could get off the leash -- from Delta Airlines (DAL).

Well, apparently, our pets aren’t the only ones leaving US air carriers. Today, an article in Bloomberg Businessweek has American pilots doing the same thing. For many, higher wages and better advancement opportunities in China are too good to pass up.

Thanks to, among other things, a rise in the mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65, many co-pilots and first officers have to wait years to become full captains. For example, one 52-year co-pilot has spent 13 years waiting for his captaincy and may have to wait as many as five more.

Around 550 pilots attended a job fair in Miami last week, dedicated to jobs in China. As of right now, China’s air fleet is expected to grow 11% a year through 2015. In that time period, they need to find an additional 16,000 pilots, and foreigners are a good option.

An American Airlines co-pilot quoted in the article claims that he might be able to double his pay by moving to China. Beyond that, he feels that his prospects overseas may be better, due both to the excess of captains and his company’s recent bankruptcy.

Chinese airlines do appear to have a policy of paying foreigners more. A representative of Spring Air told Bloomberg that foreign pilots got 30% more than domestic.

Of course, before anyone gets in too much of a panic about the impending death of American aviation, it should be pointed out that most pilots at the top of their field are likely to stay in the US. Captains make a good salary, as do junior captains. Mainly, Chinese airlines are poaching pilots whose careers have stalled and those who are unemployed or furloughed.

That said, China has already jumped ahead of the US on city rents and ownership of the word iPad (AAPL), and they have another big project in the works. Yesterday, Beijing announced plans to build an airport that will replace Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson as the world’s busiest.
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