Like its counterparts on the other side of China's internal border, Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific will be aggressively recruiting pilots over the next three years as it prepares to take delivery of dozens of new Airbus and Boeing widebodies.
However, the iconic flag-carrier's strategy is different to most of the other, newer Chinese airlines. For a start, Cathay - based in the former UK colony, now a special administrative region of China, for the past 66 years - recruits only second officers. And, unlike carriers in mainland China, which tend to offer expat pilots fixed-term contracts, Cathay "likes to be a career airline", says Kelly Crawford, flightcrew recruitment manager, offering these second officers a long-term progression to the left-hand seat.
Cathay will look to recruit around 200 second officers in 2013, with a target of 100 for the following year and 140 for 2015. Those joining will vary from young twentysomethings who have come through ab initio training to experienced instructors or regional jet, or even narrowbody, first officers.
Although it may not be undergoing the breakneck growth of some other Chinese airlines, Cathay's fleet is expanding fast. It operates 137 Boeing 777s and 747s and Airbus A340s and A330s, with an average fleet age of 10.7 years. It has firm orders for 97 aircraft, around half of them Airbus A350s, but also 777-300ERs and A330s, as well as 777-200 and 747-8 Freighters.
Cathay has three recruitment streams for its second officers. At the entry-level it has a 55-week ab initio cadet programme for those with little or no aviation experience. These will tend to be young graduates and Hong Kong identity card-holders, says Crawford. About 60 of the 200 recruits in 2013 will come via this route.
Cathay Pacific operates 137 aircraft including Boeing 777s
For those with more experience - usually a commercial pilot's licence - Cathay offers a 32-week programme, which ends up with an instrument rating and a seat in the cockpit of one of the airline's fleet. Recruits can range in age from 23 to 48, says Crawford, and will come from all over the world. Around 70 of the 200 intake will complete this course.
Finally, the highest level of entry is a five-week transition training programme for holders of airline transport pilot licences (ATPL), with around 70 of the 2013 recruits expected to go through this process. The three streams give Cathay a "good mix of experience coming into the cockpit, with a global flavour", says Crawford.
Promotion is relatively rapid. Under local regulations, second officers must have reached first officer rank within four-and-a-half years, but most achieve promotion a year earlier. Time to command is around 12 years, but this can vary depending on fleet size and the number of first officers coming through the system at any one time. "It has typically been 10 years, but it has been as low as seven," says Crawford.
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