Boeing MAX Grounding Caused Pilot Surplus in China
Mon, April 19, 2021

Boeing MAX Grounding Caused Pilot Surplus in China

Since March 2019, aircraft line Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide by the aviation authorities after two new Max airplanes crashed within five months, killing all 346 passengers and crew aboard. / Photo by:SounderBruce via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Since March 2019, aircraft line Boeing 737 Max has been grounded worldwide by the aviation authorities after two new Max airplanes crashed within five months, killing all 346 passengers and crew aboard. 

Among the eager buyers of the plane were carriers in China, accounting for 20% of the worldwide fleet, but these planes now sit idle. As a result, Chinese airlines have stopped hiring foreign pilots for the 737 Max nine months after the two crashes. 

Pilot Shortage to Pilot Surplus

Prior to the Max grounding, ex-pat pilots flying the most popular plane of aerospace company Boeing used to have plenty of job options that paid them US$300,000 with additional perks because there was a shortage of experienced pilots who could fly the plane, reports Singapore newspaper Business Times. However, the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max led the Chinese carriers to stop hiring ex-pat pilots for the jet. They still pay an above-market salary but the demand for hiring foreign pilots has slowed down. Only a few airlines in China are recruiting for such a role today.

Canada-based aviation recruitment specialist AeroPersonnel Global Inc.’s founder and president Andre Allard explained that they have witnessed airlines suspend the recruitment for 737 pilots as many of these airlines ordered Boeing Max. The worldwide grounding “evidently changed their plans,” Allard added.

Grounding of the Boeing 737 Max and Its Effect on the Economy

The anti-stall system called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation (MCAS), which is a system designed to stop the aircraft from accidentally stalling mid-air, has been implicated in the two fatal accidents. Amid criminal investigation, questions about the airplane’s design and their Federal Aviation Administration certification, and the numerous lawsuits from the relatives of the victims, the airplane maker is struggling to regain its footing.

Yet, Boeing’s troubles are not just felt by the airline industry as it also spills over into the economy. It hurts the US trade balance and clouds the outlook for suppliers, airlines, and thousands of workers in the industry. Several foreign and US airlines, for instance, cut back on their capacity growth and routes or delay promotions and pilot hiring because of the worldwide grounding.

China’s economy is also slowing and the country is still in a trade war with another large economy, the US. Wasinc International, a supplier of commercial pilots to airlines in China and around the world, said that Boeing changed the fortunes of pilots working in China. Out of 28 Chinese airlines in the books of Wasinc, only seven or eight of them are hiring pilots.

Wasinc International’s president Dave Ross shared that most of the Chinese airlines are now overstaffed and only one or two of them would be interested in hiring 737 aviators.  A subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines and considered a budget airline, China United Airlines is among the airlines that are still in the market for 737 pilots. For now, they are offering these pilots US$288,000 a year on three-year contracts. Their job ad for 737 captains was the first since July and the yearly salary already includes monthly education allowance amounting to US$1,000 for their kids, should they be enrolled in Chinese schools. 

Wasinc International’s president Dave Ross shared that most of the Chinese airlines are now overstaffed and only one or two of them would be interested in hiring 737 aviators / Photo by: N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons

 

A Decline in Demand for 737 Pilots

Until the Boeing Max is cleared by regulators, the decline in demand for 737 pilots is unlikely to end. Chinese buyers have, so far, received 76 of the planes and are expected to receive 181 more. This is based on the data provided by Boeing. Although there is a pilot job drought in China, the demand for captains of the Airbus model continues, according to AeroPersonnel and Wasinc.

Shanghai’s Juneyao is one of the airlines that offer US$299,000 a year to Airbus A320 captains who are between 30 and 53 years old. The job requires an average of 14 hours of flying per week, including overseas employment allowance worth US$666 every month and 50 days leave with pay. The salary will also increase to US$311,000 (after-tax) in the second term.

Guangzhou-based self-employed pilot agent Tony Liu shared with the daily that the Chinese airlines that continue to hire pilots are “getting pickier.” If the pilots make mistakes in the simulator, they might have a more difficult time getting past the airlines' strict standards.

Until the Boeing Max is cleared by regulators, the decline in demand for 737 pilots is unlikely to end. Chinese buyers have, so far, received 76 of the planes and are expected to receive 181 more / Photo by: Marc Lacoste via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Global Number of Fatalities From Aviation Accidents

Our World in Data, a platform that provides data and research on global problems, shares the number of fatalities from aviation accidents per million air passengers carried in separate years: 2000 (0.68 per million passengers), 2005 (0.54), 2008 (0.25), 2010 (0.32), 2013 (0.08), 2015 (0.16), and 2017 (0.01). The fatality figures are based on the number of commercial flights in the world with a capacity for 14 or more passengers and that do not include military transport and corporate jet incidents.

China may lean less on foreign pilots for now but China will be needing new airplanes in the next few years. This presents a job market for pilots, proving that their hands-on flying skills still matter.