Around a year and a half ago I had lunch with an Australian pilot from Xiamen Air at a little restaurant on the eastern fringe of Xiamen island.
Naturally, we talked about the rapid expansion of China’s aviation infrastructure and industry. Over a hundred new airports are being built in the country, new domestic airlines are popping up all over the map, and more Chinese people are flying than ever.
But has this growth been too rapid? This pilot seemed to think so:
“They are bringing these kids up and they’ve never been in a little plane before,” he said. “They go straight from flight school to 747s. So they’re in the cockpit and they have no idea what they’re doing. What would happen if the captain goes out?”
While flight simulators are extremely advance and many pilots say are more difficult than flying an actual plane, this pilot didn’t seem to feel that was adequate.
“But the airlines have no choice,” he continued. “They need to keep expanding or the bigger airlines are going to take their routes. They are building so many airports. Xiamen Airlines is getting a new plane every month, and with each new plane they need six new captains. They just can’t get enough pilots. They need the pilots but they just can’t get them. So they are promoting people up through the ranks way too quickly.”
“Do you feel as if they are creating a disaster waiting to happen?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied without hesitation.
It must be noted that this pilot stopped working for Xiamen Air not long after we had this conversation.
I also ran over what he told me with another pilot that was flying for Xiamen Air. He disagreed completely.