Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Valid Fear of Flying

The next time you need to fly within China, make sure it's not with Shenzhen Airlines.

It was recently found that more than half of the pilots or some 200 of them faked their resumes while applying for jobs in 2008-09. It was during this period that China's airline industry was taking off, but there weren't enough qualified pilots at the time.

The investigation into the fake pilots happened before the August 24 crash of a Henan Airlines plane while attempting to land at night in Yichun, Heilongjiang Province. In a fog, the plane completely missed the runway, killing 42 and injuring 54. The crash was considered to have such a bad reflection on Henan Province that the authorities forced the airline to change its name back to Kunpeng Airlines, whose parent company is Shenzhen Airlines.

Nevertheless, it's certainly frightening to hear more than half of the pilots in Shenzhen Airlines are not qualified pilots at all -- and what about pilots working for other Chinese airlines? Are they qualified to fly a plane too?

Obviously there are not enough personnel checks being done by the human resources department, or could it be guanxi? Knowing someone could easily get you a job as a pilot and be able to have a lifestyle glamourized in the movie Catch Me If You Can.

In any case, hopefully the Chinese will quickly suss out who should be piloting the plane and who shouldn't -- not only for the benefit of the airlines, but for customers too.


  1. Would it make you feel any better if I told you that China has the youngest fleet of airplanes in the world and they are all pretty much equipped with the latest technology, making them easy to fly? And that the autopilot is nearly always on? No? Okay. But at least keep this in mind - flying internationally on Shenzhen Airlines is not a bad idea as nearly all their international routes are flown by US pilots.

    Now for the crazy... I have spent the last 4.5 years working at two private flight training schools in China. We had one pilot come to our school for training after it was discovered he had been flying the 737 without the proper training or license. It happens. It also happens all over the globe. While our time at these schools we observed students learn to fly from US/Australian/New Zealand/Canadian and European trained flight instructors. The students we trained knew how to fly. When we left the school however... we heard the red envelopes were flying. Many of our locally trained flight instructors came straight from the military and we can only hope they left the military because they were the worst of the bunch. (At least they didn't get hired by the airlines!)

    The good news is that nearly all new pilots in China have been trained in high quality schools located across the globe. (They are overflowing with Chinese students, in fact.) So the young first officer flying the airplane should know what he is doing. But we have heard many cases of pilots padding their experience and hours in their logbooks. This is a real problem that I hope the CAAC will address. China is terrified of losing their stellar safety record in aviation, so it is likely that they will pay attention.

  2. So what are you saying, Global Gal? One minute you are defending these pilots and the next you're saying they are unqualified and even corrupted by red envelopes. I don't understand your point here.