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. dreamer96

    Most of the remaining unions in this country are run by highly trained and educated groups..like teachers, pilots...and they are under siege..

    June 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Paul in NorCal

    Many of our helicopter pilots are also working overseas, some because the money is better and there are tax advantages if you play your cards right. The same is likely true for airline pilots I would imagine.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. studdmuffins

    The only problem with some of these high paying jobs is the lack of resources put into maintenance. Flying for a third world country might pay off in the short run because there may be no long run.

    June 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. NB

    "Captain" is not a verb, as pilot can be. Can we please use gooder English in these here reports?

    June 6, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • NB

      Sorry, upon checking dictionary.com, it seems I am in error.

      June 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Bradley Pilmer

      NB, Can you please use correct english before telling everybody else too. I can See two problems in your sentence let alone

      June 14, 2012 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. son of a ww2 vet

    mainly due to use not sticking airplanes in the ground very often.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  6. Celeste

    As a flight instructor here in the US I used to train foreign students. Many of them from India, as soon as they got their commercial pilot's license at about 200 hours of flight time in a cessna they went back home and was put in the right seat of a wide-body Airbus. In these situations, often times the foreign airline will hire experienced American pilots to be the captain, while the kid right out of flight school is co-pilot. Given that the co-pilot is so inexperienced, the captain is flying the plane, monitoring the co-pilot and teaching the co-pilot. So on a normal flight the captain is probably doing 1 and a half times the work that they should be doing. Then when you hit a bad weather situation, or a mechanical issue, the captain is doing the stressful work of two people, while the co-pilot doesn't have the experience to do much other than sit back and read the checklist to the captain. Then throw in the language barrier, and you open a whole other can of worms.

    In the US, most pilots gain about 1000 hours (soon to be 1500 hours by law) of experience before going to a regional airline to fly a small jet or turbo prop. In the US, virtually no pilot is ever at the controls of a heavy with less than several thousand hours of experience, with a good portion of that flying a smaller turbo-prop or jet.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. eddie53

    And soon the recruiter will find that the US military is the best source of experienced pilots. DOD will be spending millions to train pilots only to loose them to the private sector.

    June 6, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • JackJohnson

      The problem with your logic is that most military pilots fly because they love the thrill of the G-forces and adrenaline when they are doing maneuvers, they can't do that as an airline pilot. While many Air Force pilots do become civilian pilots it is usually after growing older, starting a family, and realizing that to them, the thrill is not worth the risk. By this point they have already performed a great duty to our country and have every right and should be able to make a good living with their skill set. When you sacrifice years of your life and risk your life during this time you shouldn't have to get crap for moving on to something with a salary that is better able to support themselves and their family

      June 14, 2012 at 2:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. dred44

    They don't even let a fresh commercial fly in the bush for anyone but themselves. You only get to screw the pooch once when lives are on the line. including your own.

    June 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Al Fetters

    I wasn't aware that MD-83 aircraft had flight engineers???

    June 11, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. Pilot83

    I am a pilot currently flying for a US carrier. Like many of the pilots discussed in this article I too am applying to work overseas (China and Dubai). There is no future for a pilot here in the US. I have been with my current airline for over 5 years. Since being hired, because of merger and bankruptcy, I have lost seniority, seen my schedule get worse and not look at losing pay and benefits. School to get this job put me $100K in debt. I work 7 days a week at 2 jobs and on a good month break even. Last year with both jobs I ALMOST made $30K. The stress and nonstop work schedule has made me chronically fatigued.

    I am applying to foreign carriers because anywhere I go I will start between $60-100K, tax free, plus housing and other benefits paid for by the company. And this is in a first officer position (copilot). In a few short years I could have my student loan debt paid off and actually think about starting a family with my girlfriend.

    Which would you choose?

    Perhaps the language, culture and experience could add some barriers to overcome in the workplace. But is that any more stress than I am going through right now flying in the US? Is that any more unsafe than a fatigued pilot that is constantly worried if he can pay his bills this month? Some days the only thing I eat is the peanuts off the airplane because I don't have the money for anything else.

    June 11, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • AirbusPilot

      Hi Pilot83,
      I've just read your post and I would like your advise. I've been flying Airbus 320 overseas (south america) for the last 4 years now, money is OK to live down here, and prospects to upgrate to Captain is also good. I'm thinking in applying to a major airline in the U.S., but I'm afraid to start in the bottom of seniority again and maybe job insecurity. I also have a friend who flies a 777 in Dubai, and he says money over there is really good, plus the other benefits you mentioned.
      Did you move overseas? If so, how is your experience? do you miss the states?

      June 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
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    Pilot job

    June 21, 2013 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
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