Member # 934
Subject: FW: Pilots Fleeing to China
Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 11:37 AM
Excellence in Airline News
Feb 23th, 2012
Pilots Look to China for Decent Jobs
Expert: Stick a fork in AA -- they're done
Ken Krizman felt so confident signing on as an American Airlines pilot in the late 1990s, he stopped recording his flight hours. Why fool with paperwork when he’d never have to apply for another job again?
"I thought I didn’t need to keep a logbook anymore,’’ said Krizman, who lives in San Francisco but flies for American out of Miami. "I thought I was starting my very last aviation job."
But on Thursday morning, the 52-year-old joined a throng of fellow pilots to consider a new career — as a Chinese airline pilot. A dozen Chinese carriers hope to fill hundreds of pilot jobs during a two-day job fair at a Doral aviation center, promising to reward veteran U.S. pilots with more money than they could earn living in the United States.
The opening hours of the All-China Job Fair captured the mix of promise and fear that looms over sagging economies in the West and the surge of China. Held inside a training center bearing the name of a defunct airline, the hiring expo paired more than 100 mostly middle-aged men with 20- and 30-something Chinese airline executives boasting of rapidly expanding routes and the privileged life of an American pilot in China.
"You get so many days off,’’ Yang Dan, a recruiter for Okair in Tianjin, told about 20 U.S. pilots gathered in a small room in the Pan Am International Flight Academy. "You have plenty of time to take your family all over China. China is so big."
About 1,100 registered for the job fair that continues through Friday in Doral, then moves to Las Vegas for a third day, fair organizers said.
As American scrambles to reduce pilot pay as part of its bankruptcy plan, Chinese carriers are racing to accommodate surging demand for travel across the world’s most populous country. That has led China to pursue veteran U.S. pilots with offers of higher pay and the job security that comes with an industry growing rapidly.
Ronghui Lang of Shenzen Airlines came to Doral with a quota of about 50 hires to feed an airline that saw its roster of pilots double in the past several years to nearly 500. But if Lang ends up with more promising candidates, he’s ready to make more offers.
"We’re looking for 46 pilots, but we’ll take as many as we can get,’’ said Lang, who introduced himself as "Ron" at the start of a seminar on Shenzen. A compensation summary listed a starting salary of $175,000 for contract workers. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the typical airline pilot in the United States earns about $116,000.
The bankruptcy of American, one of the largest private employers in South Florida, gave pilots just one more reason to worry after a decade that saw the other major established carriers seek Chapter 11 protection, too. They sought bankruptcy largely to reduce costs brought on by contracts with pilots and other employees, along with pension expenses.
Stuart Klaskin, a Miami aviation consultant, said despite American’s crisis, most U.S. pilots should feel a bit better about their career prospects than they have in recent years. The earlier bankruptcies of Continental and Delta left those airlines on stronger footing, while an aging pilot corps should soon bring a wave of retirements that will allow for more promotions lower in the ranks. An improving economy has analysts more bullish about the industry’s prospects, and even most American pilots are expected to retain their wings after the Texas-based carrier’s cost-cutting plan takes effect.
"The upper two-thirds are fine,’’ Klaskin said of American’s seniority ranking for pilots. "The bottom one-third have something to worry about."
In a statement, American noted its average pilot stays with the company for 20 years and continues to be paid well for flying. "They have long been among the best compensated in the industry and even with the kinds of changes we are proposing during our restructuring, will remain highly compensated,’’ American spokesman Bruce Hicks said.
Pilots waiting seven deep in line for interviews with Chinese carriers at the Pan Am training center did not express much enthusiasm about moving to China. At the helm of a Chinese airliner, they will rely on a copilot who will also serve as translator for any air-traffic controllers or crew who don’t speak English. The morning’s program hinted at the challenge ahead: while some Chinese presenters spoke fluently to their American audience, others spoke in such halting English that it was difficult to follow. Some pilots talked of home-schooling their children in China, while others planned to leave their families at home and get back to the states every few months.
"Push comes to shove, I’ll do it,’’ said one 20-year American pilot out of New York with five children under the age of 17. "But I don’t want to do it."
The pilot, who asked that his name not be used, and others said the opportunity to pocket savings from a higher salary in a three-year contract was something they had to consider as they worried about layoffs, slashed pensions and reduced flying hours in the United States.
Gustavo Estevez, a long-time corporate pilot in Venezuela who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, was among those at Thursday’s fair. He has three children, including a 9-year-old who may end up attending a school in China.
"It’s hard to start all over again,’’ he said. "But with all of the benefits they offer us, it is a little bit easier."
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