Air China pilots warn fight safety under threat by unequal pay and lack of rest

Air China pilots warn fight safety under threat by unequal pay and lack of rest, and creates tensions in the cockpit, partly fueled by “higher pay for foreigners”, and may hamper safety.

More than 100 Air China pilots have voiced their disgruntlement with airline management, citing tensions in the cockpit over unequal pay and physical stress from the firm’s aggressive expansion.

An open letter addressed to the flag carrier was signed by the pilots, many of them captains of Air China’s international fleets, flying large aircraft such as Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.

The letter, verified by the airline, said most pilots could not get proper rest over the years due to the company’s “blind expansion” policy, leaving their physical and mental health “severely damaged”.

Cultural and salary differences also caused a tense relationship between Chinese and foreign pilots, the letter said. The signatories alleged that foreign pilots had “longer rest, easier routes but higher pay”.

“The arrogance in the bones of [foreigners] plus the unfair payment has made the relationship between Chinese and foreign pilots intensive, extremely unhelpful to the cockpit management, and will eventually threaten flight safety,” the letter stated.

Air China confirmed to the South China Morning Post today that they were aware of the complaints and that they would be dealt with properly to ensure passenger safety.

The pilots said they suffered from some oppressive policies which forced them to stay on duty even if they were “no longer willing” to do so.

The excessive workload has taken a toll on many pilots’ family lives, they said. The letter also noted that heart and brain diseases caused by hypertension were growing among young and middle-aged pilots.

Air China employs more than 2,200 cabin service workers and 3,700 flight crew, according to its 2012 financial report.

Xu Yanchun, an Air China spokesman, said they had received the letter and are verifying the list of signatories.

“We are checking with every pilot whose name is on the letter to ensure its authenticity,” he said.

“For every confirmed pilot, we will get in touch with him individually for effective communication.

“Generally speaking, our pilots are excellent, responsible and reliable,” Xu said.

Air China and other Chinese airlines have expanded their fleets in recent years to expand their international reach as cut-throat competition at home bears down on earnings.

The fight for customers has ramped up amid economic growth and huge travel demand from the world’s biggest market.

Asia’s biggest airline by market value, Air China said last year it would have 113 new aircraft by next year, according to Bloomberg.

It also opened new routes to Geneva and Frankfurt in February, and secured permission to expand in North America, according to aviation consultancies.

That month, Air China said its passenger turnover climbed 11.2 per cent year on year. Revenue passenger kilometres (the distance travelled by paying customers) grew 9.3 per cent for domestic flights and 16.7 per cent for international flights. www.scmp.com