CHINA hopes to overcome its dire shortage of civil aircraft pilots by opening a string of training schools around the country. It is also considering sending cadets to study abroad for the first time. Beijing has decided 600 pilots a year should be trained to cope with the rapidly growing aviation industry - far more than its existing training system can handle. The mainland has just one civil air training school, run by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), in Guanghan, Sichuan province. It can train only 160 pilots a year. To tackle the problem, CAAC is looking to open other satellite training schools, starting in Luoyang. Mainland airlines have been given permission to start their own training schemes and authorities have discussed training pilots overseas for the first time, probably in Australia and the United States. It is thought half of the number of pilots needed could be trained abroad. Chinese pilot training has been notoriously slow and relatively poor over the years. The Chinese are working to reduce the time taken to train a pilot from five to four years. It takes just 18 months to train a pilot in Europe. Part of the reason for the slowness of the CAAC process has been because of the lengthy English-language tutoring required, and the CAAC pilots also needed basic academic and mathematical training. Meanwhile, French light-aircraft manufacturer Socata, a subsidiary of Aerospatiale, has set its sights on supplying trainer aircraft to the new mainland training schools. Mr Henri Vernazobres, Aerospatiale's international sales director, said Socata was in a strong position, having supplied CAAC with its last batch of 28 single-prop Trinidad TB20 training aircraft in 1987 in a US$5.3 million deal. ''They know our aircraft and like them,'' said Mr Vernazobres, who had high hopes of selling more of the planes to China despite the break-down in political relations between France and China. Relations between the countries have soured since France decided to sell Mirage fighter aircraft to Taiwan. Aerospatiale has been selling military and civil aircraft to the mainland regularly since 1938 through all the political upheavals, and is anxious that the latest troubles should not damage its business prospects. Mr Frederic Beraha, Aerospatiale's Hongkong representative, said: ''As an industry, we hate the political turmoil. ''We are telling the Chinese we have nothing to do with the sale of aircraft to Taiwan, and we have not seen any misunderstanding on their behalf.'' The group's relations with China have been good, with Socata opening a maintenance centre at the CAAC training headquarters in Sichuan where it began training 10 engineering tutors on January 12. It is hoped the tutors will, in turn, be able to train other Chinese engineers. The Chinese had planned to send the TB20s back to France for maintenance, but Socata thought this was an unnecessary expense. It believed it would be better to help China become self-sufficient in maintenance, using Socata spare parts.