[photopress:air_china_pilots.jpg,full,alignright]China’s airlines flew 185 million passengers last year, up 34% from two years earlier. That’s about one-quarter of U.S. passenger traffic. Chinese carriers are buying hundreds of new aircraft and strugglingto find pilots.
Tian Baohua, president of the Beijing-based Civil Aviation Management Institute of China said, ‘The current situation is, you need all the pilots to fly to meet the demand.’
The typical captain of a state-owned airline such as China Eastern makes about $45,000 a year and co-pilots half that. By Chinese standards, that’s good money. But comparable aviators at China’s private airlines can earn at least 50% more. Not an excuse but it should be mentioned.
But the problem is only partly pay. Many pilots say their biggest complaint is a punishing work schedule.
Under Chinese regulations, airlines are supposed to give pilots two consecutive days of rest a week. But pilots say managers routinely work them six days a week and deny them other time off, which they argue leads to fatigue and raising safety concerns.
In most other countries the airline management responsible for such action would end up in durance vile.
A 35-year-old China Eastern captain surnamed Wu said, ‘In one seven-month period, I had not even one successive 48 hours off.’
That is totally inexcusable and, if proved true, the management responsible deserves severe disciplinary action. For they are playing with people’s safety in the air and ultimately with their lives.
The pilot concerned recently tendered his resignation out of frustration about his own schedule.
China Eastern, one of the nation’s big three carriers, along with Air China and China Southern, declined to comment.
You can understand that. To admit they operate under those conditions would be to say they were putting passengers lives at risk.
Approximately 200 pilots, including about 70 at China Eastern, have taken steps to end labor contracts with their employers. That’s a fraction of the more than 10,000 pilots in China, but many others would consider quitting or changing carriers if they could afford it.
Most signed lifetime contracts with airlines, which traditionally have footed the bill for pilot school and training. That can run to $100,000 per person.
Reluctant to let their investments go, airlines are demanding that pilots pay as much as $1 million to leave.
Analysts fault airlines and the government for letting things get out of hand.
Plainly something must be done. And done very quickly. Even if it means cutting back on flights.
Source: Baltimore Sun