Chinese Pilots Demand Pay Parity with Expats

 - April 23, 2014, 4:19 PM
Some of Air China's homegrown pilots have issued a complaint charging that their expatriate counterparts earn more, work less and draw more desirable routes. (Photo: Boeing)

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.



JWL747's picture

I recently resigned from Air China Cargo as a B747-400 PIC after having served some 7 years with this company, in this period all Expat Pilots received a significantly higher salary that the local pilots. The local pilots however received preferential flight schedule, free company medical and dental, retirement package, free pilots training prior to Airline entry and many other benifits that none of the expats were entitled to. The main reason Expats are paid significantly greater salary is that wthout this attraction very few would decide to make the move to China as the cultural difference is difficult to mange and the cost of living for a foreign pilot is far greater than for a local. The Expat pilot has to make many sacrafices in his lifestyle to operate and work in China, without the higher salry once again, few would attempt this transition. 

Supply and demand. The only way to attract experienced expat pilots is by offering attractive compensation packages!.. Relocating is a sacrafice.
I dont see how else the sortage problem can be overcome, other than by offering good money.
The extra money compensation to expat pilots in my opinion has nothing to do with them being better pilots, but rather external factors, not race related!

The Chinese Pilots typically will fly the most favourable routes, schedule-wise and least severe weather.

I flew with Chinese First Officer who would log Night Flying hours, though we were wearing our Raybans and had the Sunvisor down protecting our eyes from the glare of the high altitude sunshine.  There was a big scandal amongst all airlines that Chinese pilots had falisified their Pilot Logbooks to qualifiy them for a position with or within the airlines.

They have great hand flying skills . . . and can prove they can hands fly from 10,000 feet to landing, but that is where it ends.

Thunderstorms, no problem, they fly right through it.  One airline a Boeing 757 suffered a lightning strike that set the cabin insulation on fire, south of Shanghai, then the moron motored around the sky 40 minutes, bypassing numerous airports he could have made an emergency landing, but chose to fly back to Shanghai.

That same airline during the first quarter of one particular year suffer 23 lightning strikes, though I had none in the many years I flew in China -domestically.

I had one Chinese Co-pilot insist we do not have to de-ice the aircraft, during the Winter, with Icing Conditions and accumulated snow and ice on the entire aircraft.  He called my former Manager/Instructor/Check Airman, who was located at a different airport where it was only raining, tell me that de-icing my aircraft was not necessary.

There are very real safety issues . . . such as non-compliance with CAAC Air Laws regarding mandatory Crew Rest.  I was chronically fatigued.  There are very real safety issues when an airline Instructor during training will insist it is OK to descend, in mountainous terrain, without ATC clearance or without being established over a Beacon (for example).

There are very real safety issues when it comes to aircraft maintenance, where I have preflighted an aircraft and discovered bicycle tire valve-stem caps installed, versus the aviation-approved metal type.

Chinese pilots have a huge family support network and classmates etc.  Foreign or expat Captains are on their own and it is a genuine hardship on wives and girlfriends competing with so many young cute Chinese girls . . . Lot of marriages and relationships suffer.

And, the airlines I flew for in China did their level best to cheat on my contract.  One airline still owes me money.

And, the Chinese pilots smoke cigarettes in the cockpit, some cabin crew, and Air Police.

Most foreign Captains last 18 months to 2 years for these and many other reasons.

Parity with Expats?  You are joking, right?

I am a weekend private helicopter pilot and all of my flying is done below 1000ft AGL just for the love of flying, or to take the family on a expensive breakfast run!

My comment is not based on any factual experience, but I found the piece you wrote interesting and it made me think if westeners are better qualified, and if so why!

We grew up with civil aviation where you could start flying if you could see over the instrument panel and get a PPL at age 16. Many of today's western airline pilots started their flying at a young age and worked trough all the stages, so by the time they got to the airlines they had built up allot of flying experience, as bush pilots or ex-milatary aviators etc.

As far as I know the situation in China was much different, as Civil Aviation was non-existant. They did not grow up with this "flying culture" and did not have the exposure to aviation like us.

"Factory produced pilots"  pass  exams but simply do not have the experience!, and there is no substitute for this as far as I am concerned. My instructor once said he can teach anybody to fly but will not fly with anybody.

I was specific when I decided to do my PPL(H) and chose a flight school where the instructors were all ex-milatary, because I knew that they were of high caliber. With flying all is well if things go smooth ...It is when things go wrong that long term experience become priceless.

So  agree with your point.

I smoke but leave it until after shutdown. .......... fortunately I dont sit in a cockpit for 15 hr.

A  friend that flew for a Chinese cargo outfit in Shenzen told me that smoking is not allowed, but it is standard practice among smoking crew to light up and stand at the vent...........I am sure it is irritating to non smoking crew, but is it a critical safety issue?.......I can not say as I do not know enough to give a factual opinion.

He was also screwed with his contract and left as soon as he could. He also told me about  favourable routes and the other factors you mentioned.

Not de-icing, decending into mountainous terrain, and the bicycle valve-stems caps is scary stuff, that has proved to be fatal in many cases.

Is  bad practice and stupidity unique to China, surely not?......I am not really up to date with accident and incedent stats, and how it compares from country to country, I know Africa does not do to well when it comes to safety stats. and I have seen a few strange things myself.

So no joking, but a interesting subject

Flying beyond legal rest periods is common in the US in Part 135 operations. I was fired as a pilot for Carolinas Healthcare in Charlotte NC becasue I objected to be forced to fly for 30 hours without legal rest. Carolinas Healthcare requires itspilots to wear a pager beginingat 7 AM and be at the airport within 30 min of a page call. The 7 AM mandatory pager response stops teh rest period but does not start duty time, Carolinas Healthcare would page its pilots at 4 PM to fly 14 hours from the 4:30 airport arival time, not 14 hours from 7 AM, becasue Carolinas Healthcare said since the pilot was only ON CALL but not flying, the pilot was not on duty but was resting. After my objection after 3.5 years of flying Carolinas Healthcare aircraft, I was told that I did not have to fly after 9 PM if required to respond to a pager at 7 AM, but the other 17 pilots were not told the same infomation. About 3 months later, I told another pilot I could not take off after 8:30 since we could not land by 9 AM with doctors on board. Carolins Healthcare does not even have a Part 135 certificate but uses a 1995 Blanket Exemption from the old CAB that allows Carolinas Healthcare to advertise and charge passengers for a ticket to ride on hospital planes but pay another company like Landmark Aviation to use (rent) the Part 135 Certificate of Landmark. HAve you ever heard of a pilot renting or letting another non lilot use their pilot's license? Landmark Aviation sent theri DO or Directer of Operatios to tell the hospital pilots that is the pilots would agree to call their mandatory pager response a voluntary pager response, the pilots could continue to wear a pager and play golf until paged but if the hsiptal pilots demanded to be relieved of all flying after beoing ON CAll for 14 hours, then the pilots would be required to sit at the airport for 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. The 18 hospital pilots voted to call their pager response vountary so they would not have to sit at the airport all day waiting on a flight while ON CALL. After the pilots voted to engage in fraud, the Lead Pilot working for Landmark told the 18 pilots that if they were paged and arrived at the airport for a flight and the other pilot was not at the airport, the pilot at the aiport was not to call Landmark of call the hospital dispatch department looking for another pilot but to personally call another pilot to cover the flight. The Landmark lead pilot told the 18 hospital pilots that as long as the flights could be covered, the pilots could continue to enjoy 3 days on and 3 days off or 4 days on and 4 days off but if the flights could not be covered, the pilots would be forced to sit at the airport 24/7 becasue the hosiptal could not aford to hire another 18 pilots that would be rewuired to provide the legal pilot rest time. I was fired 3 months later for allegedly being "late" for a flight, even though it is impossibel to be late for a flight when the pager response is supposed to be voluntary. How can a [ilot be late for a flight if the pilot is not rewuired to respond to a pager call. I gave a copy of the lawsuit to NTSB Board member Robert Sumwalt, the FAA and the DOT, but everyone at the government seems to be so afraid they will lose theri govermnment jons due to the political power of Carolinas Healthcare and the hospital lobbyists who will ask the politicians to call off any government investigation. You don't have to go to China to experience unsafe and illegal aviation per my experience flying Carolinas Healthcare aircraft. Sorry rany spelling or grammar mistakes in my hurry to type this.

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