Hundreds of foreign pilots including New Zealanders in China are out of work and left in limbo as the number of planes grounded there grows due to the coronavirus.
A voice message from a China-based pilot heard by the Herald reveals more than 400 pilots have been sent on leave without pay by Chinese airlines which have cancelled 25,000 flights in the past week.
''Things are rapidly changing here in China and a whole lot of guys looking for work and not wanting to come back or not knowing how long it will be before they come back,'' the pilot said.
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''This has been a huge economic hit here in mainland China.''
Rumours of widespread layoffs were ''sadly true'', he said.
Thousands of pilots have been lured to China in the past few years by big money - one basic salary being around $460,000 tax-free a year for a widebody captain.
China's aviation market has boomed in the last 15 years and the country is set to overtake the United States as the biggest market in the next 10 years, leading to an acute shortage of pilots.
New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association president Andrew Ridling said there could be 200 Kiwi pilots working in China but he was not certain of how many of them had been laid off.
''I feel for them actually - we're not looking after anyone from an employment perspective. We do have feelings for people who have mortgages and families - those people have made choices in good faith and of course they've just been let go.''
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He was not certain of the employment agreement details which allowed the airlines - including one major carrier - to stand down pilots but standard contracts were for three to five years.
The association had been working to get three China-based New Zealand pilots out of Wuhan, one of whom was aboard the rescue flight operated by Air New Zealand today.
Ridling's association works with the China Air Line Pilots Association which was set up about four years ago.
The Chinese group had put out a request for face masks from around the world and the NZ association was sending 500 of them to China for pilots to wear.
Ridling is a Dreamliner captain and said the coronavirus had been the talk of the pilot community.
He had confidence in air in planes being pathogen-free as it was recirculated through medical filters.
''From a health perspective we're following the medical protocols that have been given to everyone else.''