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More pilots needed to ‘light up’ China’s sky

While the number of aircraft coming into China is growing- the number of pilots and maintenance engineers needed to support them is shrinking- which could prove to be a challenge to owners wishing to buy business jets over the next few years.

According to the China People’s Daily in July- Li Jiaxiang- director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has said that the nation aims to open all of its low-altitude airspace by 2015. Other policy changes also indicate that aviation will continue to expand in China. However- at last year’s ‘Ab Initio and Evidence Based Training’ flight training conference in Hong Kong- reports suggested that the Chinese government is to reduce the number of approved international Flight Training Organizations (FTOs) in the country.

The latest figures indicate that China needs a minimum of 50-000 additional pilots over the next eight years to serve its airline order needs- and that doesn't take into account requirements for Business Aviation.

Chinese presence

Two of the world’s major FTOs do have a presence in China training pilots to fly large Boeing and Airbus airliner types- which is useful for the top-end of the market. Back in 2002- CAE and China Southern Airlines formed a joint venture to provide aviation training for Asian carriers. Zhuhai Flight Training Center is owned 51 percent by China Southern and 49 percent by CAE. Operations began in January 2003- building on China Southern’s existing training facility at its Zhuhai flight base in Guangdong.

Training giant FlightSafety International also has a significant presence in China- and has been providing services there for several decades. However- today most operators of business aircraft have to send their pilots abroad for training. Both CAE and FlightSafety International (FSI) offer training on most types of business jets at centers all over the world- including the Middle East- the US and Europe.

Other firms are looking at the early stages of flight training and have managed to secure CAAC approval to offer such courses in China. For example- Pang Liwu- marketing manager of GA services company Avion Pacific said that his firm is looking to seize the new business opportunities emerging.

“The opening of low-altitude airspace will promote the development of the general aviation industry- and cause a considerable increase in the demand for related services-” Liwu outlined. “We are looking for upstream and downstream expansion- and will provide one-stop services including aircraft purchases and pilot training in the future.”

Another general aviation flight training services specialist is California’s JetOne Academy- which is also making strong in-roads into China. The company has had a strong focus on training Asian pilots- and has many graduates flying for airlines such as Air Macau- China Airlines- Dragon Airlines and Hong Kong Air.

In 2010 JetOne established an Asian headquarters in Hong Kong and now offers ground school training for regional student pilots. Its operations cover Mainland China- including Beijing- Shanghai- Chengdu- Shenyang and Zhuhai- and the company is establishing other centers in Xian- Hangzhou and Chongqing.

According to director Peter Yu- the fact that China is set to become the second largest economy in the world will unleash a trillion-dollar general aviation market chain with “hardware and software” requirements for aircraft and for air and ground crews- which is “simply unprecedented in Chinese aviation history.”

Yu attended the Shanghai International Business Aviation Show in April to meet Business Aviation operators and partners. He said- “We’ve been operational in China for a while and have forged strong relationships with the authorities. We believe this is a strong growth area- and we intend to serve it.”

Other training


The largest FTOs are also catering for the increasing business from China. FSI- for example- has introduced a new online International Procedures Recurrent course. This self-paced course is delivered entirely over the Internet- and uses a variety of flight scenarios to help prepare for international flights and the associated regulatory requirements. One such scenario is from Beijing to Teterboro- the closest Business Aviation airport to New York City.

Various companies are also trying to combat the problem for technical and maintenance training. Last year Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) and FSI paired to certify the MxPro Training Course in China.

The CAAC granted approval for FSI to conduct theoretical and practical hands-on technical training to support the Hawker 4000 and Beechcraft King Air C90. The MxPro regulatory maintenance training course trains and certifies Chinese technicians to perform maintenance on the two models- both of which are already operating in China.

The MxPro program includes interactive computer 3D modeling and actual aircraft to provide hands-on training- replicate real-life experiences- and offer operational and maintenance tasks.

There can be no doubting that the base is in place for the pool of Chinese national pilots and maintenance engineers to grow and help meet the demand that will come as China’s B-Registered business aircraft fleet expands as it is forecast to do in the coming years.

Read more about: Business Aviation in China | Flight Training

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