Rapidly-growing Asian airlines race to find qualified pilots

New York, Feb 4: The deadly crash of a TransAsia plane into a river in Taiwan is again focusing the world's attention on the safety challenges facing fast-growing Asian airlines.

TransAsia has been adding new routes rapidly since the Taiwanese carrier went public in 2011. TransAsia and others like it are rushing to keep up with a travel boom driven by the region's growing middle class. The ease and increasing affordability of flying helps fuel economic growth and a better lifestyle for Asian consumers. But as airlines carry more passengers across increasingly crowded skies, they are also racing to train enough pilots.

Asian airlines race to find pilots

"The demand is almost exceeding the supply," says John M Cox, who spent 25 years flying for US Airways and is now CEO of consultancy Safety Operating Systems. Quickly-growing airlines need to maintain standards as they hire more pilots, maintenance workers, dispatchers and flight attendants. Cox says the Asian carriers are currently meeting those marks, but it's a big challenge.

TransAsia Airways Flight 235 crashed today shortly after takeoff from Taipei, Taiwan, with 58 people aboard. Dramatic video from a car's dashboard camera captured the moment that the plane, tilting madly, clipped a bridge before landing in a shallow river. At least 26 people were killed.

It was the second fatal accident in just over six months for the airline and its seventh serious accident in the past two decades, according aerospace publication Flightglobal. It comes barely a month after an AirAsia plane crashed into the Java Sea in a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, killing all 162 aboard.

As Southeast Asia's economies grow, more people have money to travel and airlines are adding planes to whisk them across the region. Aircraft manufactures Airbus, ATR, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer delivered a whopping 1,543 new planes to airlines last year.

That means a total of 30 planes rolled off their collective assembly lines every week, the fastest production rate in the history of commercial aviation. Most of those aircraft went to Asia. TransAsia Airways, Taiwan's third-biggest airline, has been part of that buying spree. The airline was founded in 1951 but has undergone a growth spurt following its market debut on the Taiwan stock exchange in 2011. 


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