Why I’m quitting flying for the UK

Could you train as a pilot in today’s Hong Kong? In February 2019 when I join my new employer Ctrip (now affiliated with Air China) the limit will be cut from 180 hours of…

Why I'm quitting flying for the UK

Could you train as a pilot in today’s Hong Kong? In February 2019 when I join my new employer Ctrip (now affiliated with Air China) the limit will be cut from 180 hours of annual flight training to 150 hours. What do I need to know about my job prospects?

The sky is already falling for people wanting to become pilots. Hong Kong has always had a pilot shortage, but the industry is struggling with climate change and limited resources. For example, the climate change taskforce estimates that as much as 4,200 airline pilots will retire every year until 2080. As our climate, population and resources change, pilots will need to become more efficient.

Air China recently opened its largest training facility in the world. Air China Flight Training Center will train pilots from China and mainland Europe, Norway and the UK and will focus on young pilots. The 130-tonne simulator plane will sit on a site nearly the size of London’s Wembley Stadium, with 7,000 square metres of training areas.

Training conditions are getting more complicated. Commercial pilots are now required to have 30 months of post-secondary education, including training in home economics, business administration and English. Also, local and foreign pilots are being monitored by operators to ensure that pilot requirements are appropriate.

Growing forces such as competition from other global cities are making it harder to attract pilots into Hong Kong’s recruitment pool. However, the aviation sector has been able to mitigate much of this, by merging the training and recruitment departments. Since the merger, more Hong Kong pilots are pursuing careers in aviation.

Part of the problem is that the pilots are exhausted and depressed. Despite advancing in their careers, most are stressed about finances. Air China estimates that 90% of pilots are unhappy with their pay – pay that has risen by less than 15% in each of the past six years.

The pilot shortage has also made it harder for private companies to find candidates. The city does not offer financial support to commercial airlines that recruit their own pilots. For pilots willing to take on long-term commitments with a company, pay increases are almost zero.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang has recently announced a new initiative called Hong Kong Pilot Training Mission. To honour a pledge by the late British colonial governor Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s pilot trainees will be flown to Vancouver for the duration of their training.

Pilot pay remains low and with few opportunities for advancement, I’ll start my own firm in Vancouver and live there. For now, I have decided that returning to Hong Kong is too risky. When I take off in my future planes I need to work in the city – for me this means making money.

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