A class at China Southern Airlines' pilot training school at Jandakot. Picture: Stephen Scourfield

Carefully written on the whiteboard behind Captain Dongzhe Lu: "The best safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained crew."

Captain Lu has accrued 40,000 hours on flight decks during 30 years of flying, and is now board director and deputy general manager of China Southern Airlines' West Australian Flying College.

He knows flying, knows safety, and knows pilot training. Captain Lu's watchwords are professionalism, knowledge, flying skill and responsibility, represented for him by the four stripes on a pilot's shoulder. And Captain Lu is proud of China Southern's safety record: "Twelve million hours - no accidents in 15 years."

It might take only about eight hours to fly between Perth and Guangzhou, he says, but on every China Southern Airlines flight there are four highly trained crew in the cockpit.

"On every flight there are two captains and two first officers," Captain Lu says.

At the halfway point, the captain and first officer flying the aircraft change over.

And at this moment, in hushed classrooms and up in the air above Jandakot and Merredin, young men are in training to become multi-engine instrument-rated airline first officers, or co-pilots. "We are aiming for 250 this year," Captain Lu says.

They will sit alongside China Southern Airlines' 5000 pilots, flying its 533 aircraft, some of which link Perth to Guangzhou and then connect on to flights throughout China, across Asia, and on to the rest of the world. Eventually most will progress to become full airline pilots.

With China Southern Airlines looking for an extra 900 pilots this year, the demand is great.

The demands upon the trainees at China Southern West Australian Flying College are formidable, too. All men aged between 21 and 23, the third-year students are attached to the Beijing aviation university, in WA for 18 months, living in four-to-a-room accommodation within the confines of Jandakot Airport, studying complex matters hard. (A glance back at Captain Lu's whiteboard, and there's another phrase: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going.") On average, 5 per cent will fail.

The trainees start in 35 single- engine aircraft, progress into seven double-engine planes and then the four jets which comprise the Jandakot fleet. They will complete 250 hours of flying and also train using the simulator at Jandakot.

They complete four months at Jandakot before moving to Merredin, where they live in a student village.

An important part of their education is learning of English, which is the mandated international language of aviation. There are signs all around the building instructing that only English must be spoken here.

The China Southern West Australian Flying College was established in 1993 as a joint venture between China Southern Airlines and CAE Oxford Aviation Academy Perth.

There are 125 staff (40 or 50 of whom are local), including 80 instructors and safety, engineering, financial and office support staff, and the facility brings at least $20 million to the State Government each year. Captain Lu says a training fee of $140,000 per student is paid to the government.

All of which rather begs one question: why here? Why doesn't China Southern Airlines have its college in China? Why go to the trouble and expense of setting up and training in WA?

Captain Lu says WA has a very good flying environment - good weather and support systems.

It is also a good place for the young pilots to learn and practise English.

And, he points out, Australia has a very high number of qualified pilots and instructors.

China Southern also trains in Melbourne, the US and Canada but in smaller numbers than in WA. "Yes, WA is the biggest," Captain Lu says. Over its history, he says, 1800 pilots have been trained here.

And while the emphasis is on technical training, skills and flying knowledge, we also talk a great deal about the human factor. About attitudes and mental wellbeing - about the human presence in the cockpit.

For, despite the changes over the many years of Captain Lu's career, he agrees: "Flying is still just flying."

There are two more phrases on the whiteboard that catch the eye:

"It takes courage to talk to others on the team when that might expose some of your own ignorance."

And: "The meaning of loyalty is that you should never forget anyone you have loved."

FACT FILE

For more about China Southern Airlines, its services, routes and bookings, visit csair.com/en/. China Southern Airlines provides public ticket sales and information in Perth. Reservations can be made on 1300 889 628 during business hours and inquiries are welcome during office hours from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday, at Suite 4, Level 2, 3 De Vlamingh Avenue, East Perth. Also see travel agents.

China Southern has a 7/7 safety rating on airlineratings.com.

The West Australian

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