Australia’s aviation training providers are trying to steal a march on rivals from the US and other nations in tapping China’s aviation boom.
The Australian has confirmed Austrade is planning its first mission targeting aviation training to China in September as that nation looks to train more pilots to meet a skyrocketing travel demand.
It has been seeking expressions of interest from flight schools, simulators and universities for the mission on training provision to major Chinese carriers, pilot trainers and the tertiary education sector.
Boeing has estimated China will need 111,000 new pilots by 2035, more than anywhere else in the Asia-Pacific, even as it already struggles with a pilot shortage.
Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said this was a “huge opportunity for Australia” as China would soon have the world’s biggest aviation market.
“China will need more qualified pilots, air traffic controllers and dispatchers,” Mr Ciobo said. “And that requires a very high standard of training that Australian aviation businesses are well placed to deliver.
“Australia’s aviation training is among the best in the world. So there is a great opportunity for Australian aviation firms to create partnerships with Chinese airlines and pilot training academies.
“We see a great future for our services exports in Asia’s dynamic markets and the training needs of China’s aviation sector is a good example of this.”
Chinese airlines have already engaged in joint ventures with foreign companies — includng those operating within Australia — to run training outside China.
For example, a China Eastern Airlines subsidiary picked up a 50 per cent sake in CAE’s Melbourne training school in 2015.
It was part of a deal where China Eastern outsourced the training of more than 650 cadet pilots across five years to the CAE Oxford Aviation Academy in Melbourne. (CAEOAA, part of a Montreal-headquartered giant, has the world’s largest ab initio training network, according to its website.)
CAE Oxford Aviation Academy Melbourne general manager Michael Drinkall said the numbers of Chinese trainees were “staggering when compared to the Australian market” .
“There is a massive market in China, but the Chinese airlines do struggle to find enough cadets to meet the demand, particularly cadets to go overseas because of the English language requirements,” Mr Drinkall said. “Learning to fly is a challenge in itself but learning in another language is even harder.”
He said that Australia had a “lot of blue skies and a relatively open airspace”. “We couldn’t compete with the US on price when the Aussie dollar was pretty high,” he said, but now that it was lower “we can compete on price and our reputation for delivering a quality product shows through”.
Underscoring this, a recent report into the aviation workforce found Australian training was widely recognised as high quality compared with other countries, but it could be costly.
“The Australian aviation training market is also relatively sensitive to currency fluctuations, with Australian flying training schools reporting a marked drop in international student enrolments after the Australian dollar reached parity with the US dollar in 2010,” the report for the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development found.
Austrade’s Beijing-based trade commissioner for infrastructure, Matthew Brent, said that while aviation training was a competitive area, “I think Australia has a lot of strength in this space that is worth raising the profile of with industry here in China.
“The United States is obviously very active in the aviation training market, but not just the United States but also countries in Europe as well,” Mr Brent said.
“Australia has some real competitive advantages: obviously large open spaces, comparatively low levels of air traffic, suitable weather, varied landscapes and already high levels of connectivity into China and the aviation sector.”
Australian Pilot Training Alliance chief executive Glen Buckley said he was keen to see an Austrade process to identify companies that had potential to get CCAR Part 141 approval for pilot schools issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
By ANNABEL HEPWORTH