U.S. pilots find high demand, high pay overseas
Foreign carriers are turning to U.S. pilots to fly their increasing number of jetliners.
June 4th, 2012
11:06 AM ET

U.S. pilots find high demand, high pay overseas

The pilot of the Nigerian jetliner that crashed in Lagos, the country's largest city, on Sunday was an American, said Oscar Wason, Dana Air's director of operations, on Monday.

Wason did not identify the pilot by name or hometown, but he is among a legion of U.S. pilots now captaining jets for foreign airlines, said Kit Darby, an aviation consultant in Peachtree City, Georgia.

"A lot of U.S. pilots are working overseas, more than ever before," Darby said. "It's pretty common."

Darby said that as airlines have consolidated in the U.S., the job market for experienced airline captains has become "stagnant." Experienced captains are losing seniority, and it may take them 10 to 20 years to get a captain's position back, he said.

So they turn overseas, where aviation is expanding and there is a clear need for the experience the Americans bring. They typically end up captaining jetliners with co-pilots and crew who are from their host countries or from other countries where aviation professionals are less experienced.

The co-pilot of the Dana Air MD-83 that crashed Sunday was from India and the flight engineer from Indonesia, Wason said.

"It's a challenging position, half trainer and half pilot," Darby said of captaining a foreign-flagged airliner. But the rewards can be substantial.

Americans signing on to pilot jetliners in the Middle East, China and India can make well over $100,000 a year, plus add-ons like housing, according to Darby.

He said a pilot working in Africa would probably make a bit less than those working in Asia or the Mideast but would still do well.

"The big deals come with the captain's seat," he said.

The Dana Air MD-83 that crashed Sunday is a fairly new plane by African standards and would probably provide a well-paying post to a captain, Darby said.

American pilots looking to work overseas may negotiate their own deals or be matched up with a foreign carrier through a recruitment service, he said.

Wasinc International is one of those services. The company's website currently lists 34 pilot positions with carriers in China.

For instance, Air China is hiring captains for Airbus A330 aircraft, and it will train. Pay is $4,000 a month during training and then $11,000 a month plus a $4,000 monthly living allowance once training is completed, according to the Wasinc ad.

The website BestAviation.net lists 101 pilot or first officer jobs in locations including China, Lithuania, Indonesia, Mauritania and South Korea.

In a report from February, Bloomberg said airlines in China will be hiring 16,000 pilots in the next three years, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Shen Wei, a recruiter for China's Spring Air, told Bloomberg that China was a strong market for U.S. pilots.

“Everyone is facing a pilot shortage,” he's quoted as saying. “Foreign pilots are the quickest option.”

How do you know your airline is safe?

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Filed under: Aviation
soundoff (101 Responses)
  1. Pete T184

    Lost out from Continental, now with Virgin America for a fraction of previous salary. Would really consider overseas at some point when kids graduate, depending on maint standards etc. My passengers have no idea that the hotshot in the pilot's seat is making lawnboy wages. You'll never guess what I get per hour for standby.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Zombie Iron Chef America

    I once flew with these pliots over macho grande.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JC

    Can we also send them TSA? Maybe they want to emulate that and hire some our best! LMFAO

    June 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Leo

    Union were great 50/60 years ago when they actually work for the people.Now there just a bunch of thief with nothing positive to give back.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zombie Iron Chef America

      You are correct sir.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Of the entire workforce in the U.S., only 7% are unionized.

      If you believe that 7% of the population can bring an economy to its knees, especially since they have to BARGAIN for what they get...well, not really sure you have anything correct if you dont have a factual base to operate from. Maybe you should get some facts and education, then come back with a post that actually makes sense.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • pozin

      @pete – Unions made the middle class. Unions also lost their way and became personal watering holes for corrupt people. The unions have done themselves in and need look no further than the mirror for who to blame. That said, it may not sound like it but I am very pro-union BUT not at any cost. Some unions have busted their companies or limited their ability to compete. I still think there is a need but you need to recognize failure if you are going to improve.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @pozin,you're right on some parts,but a lot of us didn't even get cost of living increases,just reworking our old union contractes to remain competitive,that's why I'd traveled nationwide for years,the northern scales were higher because it cost more there to live ,so it was to my advantage to work where the scale was good,plus I averaged over 80 hours a week to live on the road,pretty hard with a family in my day...Take care,unions do work if you use them right,as any business,to your benefit,but ya have to work hard to keep it working properly...

      June 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @pozin,our unions worked hard to compete,even in contract negotiations,helping contractors to be more competitive,no arm twistin, being better for the contractor and us,working side by side...It works out,it always does,at least with us!!

      June 4, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @ Steve,everhear of the International TEAMSTERS,I'm not with them,but they'll definitly bring you or anyone else in this country to their knees.You sir are the one needing an education in the economics of supply and demand,if it ain't trucked in,you don't eat, if it ain't trucked in you don't have heat,remember that before you post buddy.Unions are stronger than most of you know,where unions go ,most intelligent people follow,check out Wisconsin,that's just one example,they got Walkers and Americas attention didn't they!!!

      June 4, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fig1024

      What does this article have to do with unions?
      The pilots are choosing to work in other country because they get paid more. That's free market. If anything it's the CEO's and Wall Street types that are to blame for such poor wages in America

      June 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Steve,here's a little fact not known publicly,it was asked by one of our UA presidents if our union took out all our money out of Wall Street,what would happen,an highly regarded economist said total collapse of WallStreet as we know it because of the hugh amount of union monies invested daily in the stock market by union pensions and annuities,ours is only 350,000,that's down from years ago...And remember,hourly workers scales being negotiated everywhere nation wide,union and nonunion, use union scaled wages to set their own hourly rates of pay,its been used for years,its commonplace for most big corporations and other groups that hire hourly workers...

      June 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      Except fair pay, fair vacation time, fair days off, fair retirement benefits, fair health benefits, and fair pensions...

      ....yeah, nothing positive to give back....

      June 5, 2012 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bobby Bank

    I'd swim to my destination before I got on a plane operated by a carrier from a third-world country. The fact that the plane required a flight engineer tells you just how old and outdated the plane was.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      I wouldn't fly a 3rd world airline either, BUT an MD-83 is not a particularly old or outdated aircraft. It might not be new, but they're in use around the world still, American and Allegient Airlines in the US both operate large fleets of them

      June 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Capt K

      There is no FE on an MD-80 or any variant of one. Same plane used by Delta, American, and many other US airlines

      June 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      MD-80's (DC-5 type) do not require a flight engineer and never have. There is no FE panel in that aircraft. Most likely a first officer in training who flew the cockpit jump seat and got a few hours flight time every couple of legs.

      June 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • peridot2

      There's no engineer on that aircraft. It's a two-man flight crew, just like the MD 80.

      Still, what do you think happens to airplanes that are taken out of service here in America? They don't all go to the desert to be mothballed. They're sold to other countries to be used for their airlines.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. AK

    Air India is looking for Pilots to replace its pilots currently on strike.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Portland tony

    Trouble is the military is turning out to many pilots for the wars we fight. So they leave the service and hire in at relatively low wages as 2nd seaters or flight engineers with the airlines. Supply exceeds demand equals low pay.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • portland robert

      @portland tony sure blame the military, not the lack of competition between airlines, for example all the recent mergers of the largest airlines, or the fact that with the USA not expanding its air routes because it is already well established as an airline market vs say the emerging markets that are just now really getting the demand from their people for air travel. that might make a little more sense as to why it is that the demand for pilots here is low, go beyond pot shot politics and maybe scratch the surface on the economics of the situation, where there is large growth in a market segment there is also large demand

      June 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Leo

    To all Union members your welcome....... if it wasn't for the non-union tax payers most you would not have jobs

    June 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      @Leo,if it weren't for union based pensions and annuities,WallStreet wouldn't survive .Most of our work is competitively bid,no hand outs,that's fact,thanks tax payers,you get your monies worth from us,do we from you nonunion workers,I hope so,we pay a higher tax,we should expect more right!!!

      June 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • s kel

      what a ignorant misinformed statment. But than again most statments from conseritives are.

      June 4, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. RW-1

    Your an idiot Bobby ... L-1011 is perfectly safe and I flew them for Gulf Air in the 90's, just because a design needed an FE has nothign to do with Safety. GA actually took better care of it's equipment than some US lines I care not to mention.

    June 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jim

    I'm just a VFR private pilot. They interested in training me from here.

    June 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. smithrd3512

    How about less security with TSA?

    Less security such as pat downs and body scanners might get more people to fly.

    It could be one reason our airlines are not doing so well.

    June 4, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • peridot2

      TSA complaints are down. Do try to keep up with current events.

      June 5, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. smithrd3512

    Another big issue with Airlines..

    Lack of good customer service. Most American based airlines could take a queue from their foreign counter parts in the terms of service.

    June 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Anonymouzly

    This article is partly referring to a plane crash in which families died but because it did not happen on American soil, you don't care and have instead chosen to focus on myopic matters such as unions. Lives were lost, people died, entire families were wiped out and all you can talk about is unions, taxes, military and jobs?! Really people; stop and smell the roses. If this had happened in America, there would be an outcry...pause to think and reflect here. This is A TRAGEDY; it's not about jobs!

    June 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thelma Lou Brickmore

    Stop impersonating me.

    June 4, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. halintexas

    I was an ALPA member. Airline shutdown in 2008. ALPA did nothing to help me find a job. My pilot friends did! Fourth trip outside the US since, to find word. This one should last a while. Money and schedule is good.

    Outside the US an "engineer" is a mechanic. It's not unusual, depending on where you're flying, to take an "engineer" with you. So, I "flight engineer" is a ride-along mechanic.

    There is not now, nor will there be, a shortage of pilots in N. America.

    Wait for the crash investigation before making any judgements or conclusions about this flight.

    June 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
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