The rapid increase in the number of Chinese tourists is often cited as the cause for numerous problems in destinations around the world. Whether it’s overcrowded streets, or inappropriate behavior, Chinese travelers have a bad reputation. Arguably, this has less to do with Chinese tourists specifically, and is a result of the sheer volume of new travelers. Regardless, whatever the problem or industry challenge is, Chinese tourists are often found as the scapegoat.
While it might not be true that Chinese tourists are to blame for everything from overtourism to ecological disasters, it appears safe to say that Chinese tourists are in part to blame for a global pilot shortage.
Or more specifically, the rising demand for aviation in the Chinese market—whether for domestic or international, leisure or business purposes—is having substantial effects on airlines around the world.
With the explosive growth of Chinese air travel in the last decade, China is now poised to overtake the United States as the world’s largest aviation market as early as in 2022—even earlier than previously anticipated.
Unsurprisingly, such growth requires both aircraft and staff to operate them. According to a Financial Times report, Boeing predicts that China will need 110,000 new pilots through 2035 and an additional 7,000 aircraft in the next couple of decades.
This problem is made all the more challenging because of how the Chinese military restricts airspace in China, which is putting sticks in the wheel for the establishment of more pilot schools in the country. Even so, airlines like AirAsia—eager to expand in China—are floating the idea of combining Chinese market entry with the establishment of pilot training facilities.
The challenge for airlines around the world is further compounded by Chinese airlines’ willingness to provide foreign pilots with extremely competitive compensation packages, causing costs to soar.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Dave Ross, president of Wasinc International, a pilot leasing company, said that the starting salary offered to foreign pilots in China has risen from $10,000/month ten years ago to $26,000/month tax-free today.
Needless to say, such compensation packages are highly attractive to pilots around the world, and it has already started causing problems at Cathay Pacific, which saw its pilots offered “sky-high salaries” by Chinese carriers after announcing pay cuts.
While certainly profitable for pilots, the China-caused global pilot shortage is less beneficial to airlines and consequentially, for travelers. Booming pilot salaries are causing costs to increase, and pilot shortages have already caused flight disruptions for passengers around the world that have seen flights delayed and canceled.
Hopefully, the supply of pilots will pick up before the global pilot shortage starts dampening the growth of global Chinese travel.