Foreign companies are making hay in China’s aviation training market by setting up more pilot training schools and other facilities to cope with the drastic shortage of pilots in the rapidly expanding aviation sector.

Currently, only a few major Chinese airlines have well-established pilot training systems. Many medium-sized and smaller airlines are yet to set up their own pilot training mechanisms and lack training facilities such as flight simulators.

Avia Solutions Group, a Lithuania-based aviation services company, plans to establish a pilot training center in China, which is expected to open in 2020. It will provide training services for existing pilots and for smaller airlines that do not have simulators, the company said.

Avia is also looking for Chinese partners and considering suitable sites for the center, and the entire process is expected to be finished within six to nine months. For site selection, the group will mainly consider the current local services level, whether the competition is fierce, and if the future development trend is bullish.

By 2022, the center will train 1,000 pilots per year with three simulators, mostly for A320 and B737 MAX aircraft. Later, it will increase this to 2,000 pilots annually with six simulators.

“On average, it costs about $250 to $350 per hour to train a pilot with a simulator, depending on whether the training is carried out during the day time or night time,” said Gediminas Ziemelis, chairman of the board of Avia Solutions Group.

“Currently, about 1,500 pilots who work for Chinese carriers are being trained abroad every year and we are looking to fulfill the demand for pilot training in the country,” he said.

In the past two years, Avia has invested $835 million in China and provided 14 new aircraft to its joint venture, a financial leasing company based in Henan province.

About 3 million yuan ($440,000) to 5 million yuan is required to train a captain, and it takes at least seven to eight years to complete the training process, according to a report from Carnoc, one of China’s largest civil aviation websites.

Globally, the commercial aviation sector will require 790,000 pilots over the next two decades, double the current workforce, driven by the sharp growth in commercial airplane fleets, surging demand for air travel and tightening labor supply, according to a forecast by US aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co in July.

Over the next two decades, the demand for cabin crew is expected to reach 858,000, due to changes in fleet mix, regulatory requirements, denser seat configurations and multi-cabin configurations that offer more personalized services, the report said.

The demand for maintenance technicians is set to drop slightly to 622,000 from an earlier forecast, as the maintenance intervals for new aircraft have become longer, the report found.

“Despite strong global air traffic growth, the aviation industry continues to face a pilot labor supply challenge. An emphasis on developing the next generation of pilots is key to help mitigate this,” said Keith Cooper, vice-president of training and professional services of Boeing global services.

Boeing also provides pilot training services for technicians and flight crews globally, including in Shanghai.

In addition, the report found that business aviation and civil helicopter sectors together will require an additional 155,000 pilots and 132,000 technicians, and 32,000 new cabin crew will be required to support the business aviation sector.