With the consolidation of several U.S. carriers, the job market for airline pilots isn’t as attractive as it once was. Pilots face a long climb to the top and compensation along the way can pale in comparison to what foreign carriers are offering.
Due to booming economies in places like China, commercial aviation is rapidly expanding and facing a very real shortage of qualified pilots. This has resulted in foreign carriers offering signing bonuses, housing, and other attractive bonuses to experienced pilots.
A report from the Civil Aviation Administration of China indicates a need for more than 15,000 additional pilots by 2015. Since Chinese airlines are having a hard time filling the need domestically, they’re looking overseas to fill the need.
According to an industry analyst, these deals may not be as attractive to pilots at major U.S. carriers who are well compensated, but rather the large contingent of highly experienced regional airline pilots who feel limited by their prospects for advancement.
A first officer with plenty of experience may be waiting quite a while for a captain position at a U.S. airline, but in China the same first officer’s upgrade can come right away accompanied with twice the pay.
Pilots seeking overseas work can negotiate directly with the foreign airlines or through a recruitment service which matches pilots and airlines and handles the negotiations. Some of these companies currently have listings for hundreds of positions.
Deals like these are great for both pilots and foreign airlines as they provide lucrative contracts to pilots who are filling the needs of the airlines. Perhaps more importantly, they are also good for aspiring or furloughed airline pilots in the U.S. who could leverage these contracts to accelerate their domestic job prospects.
Flight training in the U.S. is still more affordable and quicker than in other countries, but pilots’ job prospects are often weakened by lack of experience in larger jets. Since many foreign airlines are offering to pay for type ratings, many U.S. pilots will see an increased demand for their skills back home after only a brief contract overseas.