Opinion / Commentary

Pilots pose big problem
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-06-22 06:06

Six pilots from China Eastern Airlines went on hunger strike for five days from June 15 after the airline's general manager refused to meet them to discuss a dispute over their resignations.

They cited unsatisfactory working conditions, China Eastern's failure to keep its promise to transfer their spouses to where they stay and low pay as the reasons why they opted to quit.

But it has been reported that the most immediate reason is that a non-State airline has offered to pay at least 30 per cent more than what they are currently earning at China Eastern.

In the past when State-owned airlines dominated the sector, most pilots were proud of their profession because their incomes were much higher than many others.

Competition between the State-owned and non-State airlines has provided them with opportunities to move to higher-paid jobs with better conditions.

A lack of qualified pilots has made them a rare human resources badly needed by all airlines.

The drain of pilots started to worry State-owned airlines several years ago when their non-State counterparts began luring pilots with higher pay and better treatment.

They are in a quite embarrassing situation. It takes time and money to train a qualified pilot. And it takes almost 10 years for a pilot to be promoted to the position of a captain.

Although relevant rules stipulate that airlines need to be compensated between 700,000 to 1.2 million yuan (US$87,500 to 150,000) for their investment in the training of a pilot when he wants to quit, the airlines still cannot accept the resignation of these pilots, insisting they have actually spent much more in training them.

China Eastern has asked for 6 million yuan (US$750,000) in compensation for the captain and 3 million yuan (US$370,000) for each of the other five co-pilots who want to leave.

If they are allowed to resign, where can China Eastern find experienced pilots to take their places? Training a qualified pilots costs time and money.

Furthermore, the airline may fear that more will follow suit if these six pilots are allowed to quit so easily. So the aftermath of their resignation might be disastrous for China Eastern and possibly to some other State-owned airlines.

The General Administration of Civil Aviation of China is said to have held a meeting to discuss the appropriate procedures for the resignation of pilots from airlines under its auspices.

Whatever the result of the dispute, a lack of pilots will worry airlines. The situation will deteriorate with the expansion of State-owned airlines and the development of their non-State counterparts.

It is estimated that at least 6,000 pilots will have to be trained in the coming decade to meet increased demand.

To maintain a stable force of qualified pilots, the State-owned airlines may need law-abiding contracts with explicit explanations about the obligations and rights of the pilots they have trained.

(China Daily 06/22/2006 page4)