More than 100 Air China pilots have signed an open letter to management complaining of unequal treatment between homegrown flight crew and their expatriate counterparts, according to Chinese state-controlled media. The letter, now circulating on the Internet, alleges that foreign pilots enjoy more desirable schedules and routes as well as higher pay, a circumstance attributed to the desperation of airlines in fast expanding air transport markets to fill their cockpits with experienced crewmembers.
Boeing documented China’s personnel challenge in a report last year that estimated the country’s airlines will need some 77,400 cockpit crewmembers through 2032. According to the manufacturer, that figure equates to around 40 percent of the overall requirement across the Asia-Pacific region over the same period.
The letter blames Air China’s “blind expansion” policy for “severe damage” to the Chinese pilots’ physical and mental health, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. It also appears to indicate a growing resentment toward the expatriate pilots by their domestic counterparts. “The arrogance in the bones of white people, plus the unfair payments, has made the relationship between Chinese and foreign pilots intense, extremely unhelpful to cockpit management and will eventually threaten flight safety,” the letter reportedly stated.
If, indeed, such preferential treatment of foreign pilots compromises cockpit resource management principles, it would undermine the point of hiring expats to help address safety concerns. In fact, the experience of Air China could prove a valuable lesson for Russian airlines as well, following President Vladimir Putin’s recent passage of a law allowing them to hire foreign pilots in an effort to alleviate a serious shortage there.
The Kremlin’s move to allow more foreign pilots comes in reaction to a 14-percent rate of annual traffic growth among Russian airlines, which already suffer from a reputation for substandard safety.