Today's airline industry not only provides the chance for business executives and holidaymakers to travel the world, but also offers untold employment opportunities for those who want a career that combines challenge and excitement. Despite periodic ups and downs, the sector is still looking forward to steady expansion and will always need individuals who can master the complex nature of the industry's operations, and are adaptable enough to handle a diverse set of job responsibilities from day one.
According to David Yao, general manager of China Airlines (Hong Kong), having the right attitude is essential for coping with the initially steep learning curve. "Our industry is marked by intense competition and things like increases in the price of fuel, terrorism or the outbreak of epidemics that have to be dealt with as they arise. That means we must always be ready to acquire skills and knowledge and look out for new business opportunities. Therefore, it is important to have a passion for life-long learning and to be proactive at work," he says.
Mr Yao joined the company in 1976 as a cargo operation officer and, at the time, had scant knowledge of how an airline was operated. In his current role, though, he oversees the carrier's entire operations, including the sales and marketing, finance and customer service functions in Hong Kong and southern China.
Even as a junior member of staff, he threw himself into the work. "As a graduate in foreign languages, I could put my skills to good use," he recalls. "For example, I had to help cargo owners with custom clearance, check airway bills and other documents, and supervise the handling of dangerous goods. My ability in languages gave me an edge." Within a short time, Mr Yao was promoted to the position of cargo tariff officer at the company's Taipei headquarters, and he later became passenger tariff manager. This role involved negotiating fares and tariff arrangements with travel agents and civil aviation authorities.
It is important to have a passion for life-long learning and to be proactive at work
The experience gained there paved the way for a subsequent switch into sales and marketing. "In that position, the key thing was to communicate closely with the passenger sales and reservation departments," he notes. "They were required to seek my approval for any sales or marketing initiatives they proposed." In due course, this led to an overseas stint in the US from 1991 to 1999, which gave Mr Yao broader exposure and more decision-making power. First, he managed sales and marketing for the carrier's Los Angeles office before being transferred to New York as general manager. In 1999, he was asked to return to Taipei as assistant vice-president with responsibility for passenger sales and marketing.
However, his travels were not over and, two years ago, Mr Yao took on his current role in Hong Kong. "At present, I focus on passenger and cargo sales, marketing and airport services," he explains. A typical office day now begins at 8.30am with a quick review of schedules, sales performance, and a regular meeting with his sales managers to monitor targets and set new goals. Apart from the usual round of conferences, business lunches and administrative duties, he also visits Chek Lap Kok airport frequently to inspect operations.
Mr Yao points out that in Hong Kong there is a range of opportunities for school leavers who want to get into the industry. However, those aiming for a senior management role should be ambitious, dedicated and remember to steer well clear of the sort of unprofessional practices which could soon end a promising career.
"One way to gain the trust of your superiors is to keep them updated about your progress on different assignments," he says. "This, combined with a strong sense of responsibility, will put you on the fast track to success."
Besides that, Mr Yao advises those hoping to build a long-term career in the airline industry not to be too calculating. "In this business, you need a positive mindset, must be proactive, should learn continuously and constantly ask yourself what you can do for your company. If you perform your role competently, the rewards and opportunities for advancement will come automatically."
In recent years, the airline business in mainland China has consistently registered double-digit annual growth and is set to expand at an even faster rate as new airports are completed and additional services take to the skies. Both domestic and international airlines are expected to be recruiting in the months ahead as the number of flights continues to multiply.
In most cases, a company like China Airlines will hire locally rather than transferring personnel from Hong Kong or elsewhere. The entry-level salary for staff at their Guangzhou branch is in the region of RMB2,800. However, they mention this is comparatively high by Chinese standards and that, by joining the company, young school leavers will have the chance to enjoy a wide range of career opportunities.