Foreign pilots call for better safety systems

Updated: 2011-09-29 09:19

By Shi Yingying (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - After being blamed for several accidents, foreign pilots are calling for the airline industry to adopt better safety systems.

In a recent notice, the Civil Aviation Administration of China's East China regional administration said it will strengthen its oversight of foreign pilots. The stricter supervision comes after a Korean captain from Juneyao Airlines last month refused to yield to a mayday call made by another plane.

Roy Weinberg, an US citizen who joined Spring Airlines a year ago, said the installation of safety management systems would help to prevent such incidents.

He said the Juneyao incident, rather than being a mishap that can be easily blamed on one person, showed that China should work to make airlines safer.

In Shanghai alone, 219 foreign pilots from six airline companies - China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, Spring Airlines, China Cargo Airlines and Yangtze River Express - are to be subject to the heightened scrutiny before the end of October.

"They visited us earlier this month and were especially interested in knowing what standards we use in recruiting foreign pilots, whether we have guide booklets on management and how much (the pilots) follow the regulations of the Civil Aviation Administration of China," said Xiao Fei, who is with Spring Airlines' foreign pilot and student pilot management office.

Xiao said most Chinese airlines give foreign pilots no special privileges.

He said the pilots undergo tests every six months to gauge their knowledge of aviation theory and their flying ability. "But this time more background checks on foreign pilots are required," he said.

Earlier this month, the civil aviation administration sent a telegraph bearing the title "Notice on Strengthening the Management of Foreign Pilots" to the six airline companies. It, in part, said, "the Juneyao Airlines incident revealed that some foreign pilots are subject to serious lapses in their professional ethics and discipline. It also showed the flaws airline companies have in their hiring, training and managing of foreign pilots".

On Aug 13, the Korean captain on a Juneyao Airlines flight ignored instructions given by air-traffic controllers at the Shanghai Hongqiao airport and refused to give way to another aircraft that was trying to make an emergency landing. The captains of both airplanes claimed they were running out of fuel.

A subsequent investigation revealed, though, that the Juneyao Airlines plane had enough fuel to stay in the air for 42 minutes, while the other plane could only remain in flight for 18 minutes.

Zhang Qihuai, an aviation law expert with the Beijing-based Lan Peng Law Firm, wrote in a recent blog entry that poor discipline and disorderliness are common among foreign pilots.

"They were not the backbones of the airlines in their home countries and they came to China for better pay," said Zhang.

With the recent expansion of Chinese airlines, a shortage of capable pilots has become increasingly apparent. By 2015, China's aviation industry will be seeking to hire 18,000 pilots, according to China Business News.