By DebbieH 16 Mar 2020 7 min read

China ex-pat pilots leave – the virus fallout & will contracts be renewed?


Kirsty Ferguson, founder of Pinstripe Solutions joins us today to discuss a topic of growing concern within the aviation industry – the effects of the coronavirus.

Chinese airlines have stood down the majority, if not all ex-pat pilots and advised them to the leave the country in the wake of the Coronavirus epidemic, and off the back of the 737 Max grounding. Their combined impact has had a significant effect on reduced demand.  

But does it end there? The state of play for ex-pat pilots in China is about to change long term, as more high hours pilots hit the job market.

The knock-on effect of the subsequent aircraft groundings has spread globally with Europe, Australia and the US taking advanced measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.  This industry finds itself yet again facing the wrath of a health crises and the fallout of border protection methods and route closures.


“Aviation WILL pivot and recover”


The lay of land:

  • Cathay Pacific; 27,000 employees asked to take unpaid leave.
  • Hainan and China Southern offered unpaid leave to all ex-pat pilots.
  • Most if not all China based airlines have notified ex-pat pilots to leave their borders.
  • The number of ex-pat pilots seeking alternative roles in the wake of the instability in China has increased in since December 2019.


As other factors come to light, this group of highly experienced pilots will be reconsidering their futures as they are faced with a region once again at the forefront of economic and health adversity.

  • Low Cost Carriers are struggling and this month we saw Flybe cease operations. Regional airline TSA in the US restructured within is parent company and TigerAir in Australian closed two bases. They are but a few hit hard.
  • Mainline carriers are reducing capacity such as Qantas by 25% for the next six months and Air New Zealand by 10%. BA, Emirates and most of the big names have followed suite with capacity cuts.



Other factors for pilots to consider:

  • Employment contracts up for renewal may not be renewed at ex-pat rates, but under local terms.
  • Recruiters are anticipating that many ex-pat contracts will simply not be renewed in light of the reduced demand and capacity cuts. 
  • Some airlines may be forced to consider job-sharing arrangements or redundancies. 
  • The majority of aviation recruitment has been placed on hold with some regional airlines, ancillary operators such and aero medical, corporate and flight schools continuing to recruit. 
  • Those airlines who remain open for recruitment and who are progressing candidates are few. How long they will remain open is unknown.



The flip side:

Experienced high hours pilots have for the last 5 years been in demand globally. 

Narrow and Wide Body carriers seeking experienced type rated First Officers and Captains have a unique opportunity to engage with an unexpected level of talent, will they seize the opportunity.  

This crises, as we have seen in our recent past with the likes of Bird Flu and Sars, along with economic downturns in the 20-teens will pass. Aviation will pivot and recover. As with any business, the recovery will see changes in the nature of the industry and the careers it offers.

To the airlines who can – Carpe Diem.

To the aviation professionals hit by the fallout, develop Plan B and C and assess any existing opportunities sooner rather than later.


Image credit: Unsplash



Author, speaker, career coach and entrepreneur, Kirsty thrives on the diversity and innovation of business in the coaching space. Founding Pinstripe Solutions in 2000 in response to the collapse of Ansett Airlines her Executive Coaching business has grown to specialize in Pilot, Cabin Crew, Aircraft Engineering, and Aviation Corporate Interview Preparation. Her team of off-site coaches works worldwide in 15+ countries via a unique online business model. Amassing an incredible social media following through relentless blogging and career hub contributions, Kirsty uses her platform to advocate for aviation as a career, to mentor and encourage self-knowledge, change and innovation. Kirsty has recently joined the Advisory Board for ‘Inflighto’ ( a groundbreaking industry app Kirsty has presented at Griffith and Sydney Universities, industry forums and drives airline careers through her Secondary School talks and Mentoring programs.

Kirsty is a monthly contributor to Australian Aviation Magazine, and Aviation Job Search. She has been interviewed for: Reuters,, Marie Claire Magazine and Coaching Life. Listen to her interviews as a guest on iTunes leading podcast ‘Go All In’ and Australian Aviation Radio. |