Pilots seek opportunities in Vietnam
As Asia-Pacific airline industry gets set for further solid growth this year, airlines continue to draw foreign aircrew with the attractive remuneration packages routinely offered.
Much attention has been paid to the wealth of job offers available to foreign pilots centred primarily in China and the growing ASEAN member states led by Indonesia. However, often slipping under the radar for pilots, Vietnam now commands a sizable base of expat pilots which set to expand as the country boosts its aviation sector over the coming months. Conducive to the country’s rising middle class, a greater share of the population now has the discretionary income to travel abroad, paving the way for a number of new airlines concentrated largely in the low cost segment. Given these circumstances and the potential for growth, the Vietnamese market might hold surprises for foreign pilots.
For a nation with a relatively small landmass, Vietnamese airlines employ close to 670 pilots, 865 technical staff and over 2,000 flight attendants dispersed among the nation’s five major carriers. However, owing to long-running training deficiencies and a shortage of highly experienced personnel, a considerable portion of these numbers continue to be sourced from abroad. Indeed, of the 800 pilots currently filling the ranks in the nation’s flag carrier, Vietnam Airlines, 360 are non-Vietnamese nationals. The same conditions prevail elsewhere, with up to 40 foreign pilots accorded to Air Mekong, 50 to VietJet Air and 58 with Jetstar Pacific Airlines, constituting close to 95% of total aircrew for the latter.
Ensuing to the expansion plans of the nation’s largest carrier, Vietnam Airlines, will be an increase of its fleet number to 115 as well as broadening of the pilot base to 1,200 over the next two years. In addition, VietJet Air has sought new destinations in Korea and South-East Asia for which to spread its wings, taking advantage of the accelerating demand for budget air travel to and from Vietnam.
The sizable outlay and input costs for airlines in Vietnam have measured difficult times for a number of carriers. Recently this week Air Mekong announced the suspension of air services pending a complete change in their fleet structure. According to the airline, central to the company’s financial problems was the less than ideal fleet decision, compounded by rising fuel and staffing expenditures. Furthermore, the culmination of unresolved debt obligations for Indochina Airlines led to their untimely demise in 2009, after only a year in operation. While profitability struggles are evident, the same situation does not apply for the low cost carrier, VietJet Air, which continues to operate aircraft at maximum utilisation levels while employing a largely expat pilot base.