Chinese Pilots Flying with False Records

Friday, September 10, 2010
By George Hatcher

George’s Point of View

Apparently false flying records are part of a known underground Chinese pilot subculture. All Chinese pilots know about it. Now the CAA does too. Just google this phrase: false pilot certification surname Xu

192 Chinese pilots with falsified flight records are now under the eye of China’s Civil Aviation Authority; some of them have conditionally been allowed to continue flying pending re-application for pilot certificates after undergoing additional training under strict supervision. Some of the pilots involved had their licenses revoked. Here’s the big question that hit me, and the reason I posted this as an editorial and not just news:

Should the pilots be allowed to earn their certification after falsifying their records?

The US FDA would never let Chinese goods pass uninspected, especially since recent history has proven that if Chinese imports can somehow be adulterated (by melamine, or toxins in drywall, hook or crook, shame, fines, bribery, guilt, flattery or whatever), then it will be. So products are not to be trusted but must be inspected. This is not the sole dominion of Chinese exports, but all of all countries products.

But what of the long-standing Chinese obsession with honor? Has honor decayed in the face of rapid economic and social change?

The honor thing in China is very real. Zheng Xiaoyu, head of the Chinese FDA from 1998 to 2005, approved untested medicine in exchange for cash. In punishment, China executed him.

Should China, which for centuries has set high standards for honor, now let these values erode because of a pilot shortage? Shouldn’t the ethics, honor and sense of responsibility of someone who is daily responsible for hundreds of lives be impeccable? Is someone who is willing to falsify their flying history an individual of impeccable honor, one responsible enough to bear the burden of all of those lives? Perhaps I should not bring this up, as the oriental concept of honor is not identical to the non-oriental perception. Perhaps saving face in this case is a matter of equating “honor” with the “Soprano-like” keeping of the false-paper pilot cult secret. Even so, the issue is not only the question of how one can be solidly qualified if the foundation of ones qualification is a tissue of lies, but also if a pilot is shady and unreliable enough to pretend to be qualified, how can that so-called pilot actually be reliable enough, trained enough, expert enough to safeguard the lives of planeloads of passengers who trust there is solid experience in the cockpit? It is a violation of the public trust.

One of these falsely certified pilots was manning the Henan Airlines jet crash. His fake credentials and lack of experience caused the deaths of more than 40 people. How much more of a wake-up call does China need?

But it is not unreasonable to allow testing to verify qualifications. It is more humane than applying the Chinese FDA solution. Perhaps the very existence of 192 known falsifications indicates some need of a fast-track solution for former military pilots who wanted to transition into commercial positions.

I have personally flown within China in their planes. I felt safe. The flights had no incidents, and believe me, unlike many passengers whose lives do not revolve around aviation, I am always on the lookout.  So, let’s not put down the many for the few who have taken the course of this criminal act. Let us, rather, respect that China ferreted out the falsified records, and are proceeding in a modern and reasonable fashion to make amends. I personally love China, and travel there often. I will continue to do so, even if it is on a Chinese plane.

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