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Henan crash calls China's civil aviation safety into question
Civil aviation safety in China is once again
under scrutiny following a fatal crash on 24
August and confirmation that 192 pilots
falsified their resumes.
The accident involved an Embraer ERJ190
jet operated by Henan Airlines, which crashed
at Lindu Airport in Yichun City, Heilongjiang
province, killing 42 of the 91 passengers on
board. The aircraft, arriving from Harbin,
overshot the runway and broke apart after
landing in thick fog.
This was the first crash involving a Chinese
airline since 2004. The event prompted the Civil
Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to
embark on a nationwide safety audit.
Soon after the crash, the CAAC said in a
statement that investigations over the past two
years have revealed that 192 working pilots had
misrepresented themselves on their resumes.
False entries of flying hours and endorsements
were found in the pilots' log books.
The aviation regulator did not identify the
airlines the pilots work for. Six CAAC teams
had carried out checks on airlines across the
country, covering operational safety standards,
maintenance, competence of personnel, and the
implementation and enforcement of regulations
Investigations started with Henan Airlines and
its parent company, Shenzhen Airlines, a budget
carrier based in the booming city of Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Airlines is the only budget carrier
An aviation official in Shenzhen, speaking on
condition of anonymity, says most of the culprits
were former military pilots, and, of these, 103
worked for budget carriers.
"What is surprising is that the entries in the
log books were not verified with the authorities
before the pilots were hired," the official
says. He adds that failure to check the pilots'
qualifications poses a threat to aircraft and
The 40-year old captain of the crashed Henan
Airlines jet was previously with Shenzhen
Airlines. He resigned after being demoted from
Boeing 737-800 captain to first officer, but was
given the position of a captain when he joined
Calls to the office of Shenzhen Airlines
President Feng Gang went unanswered, while
flag carrier Air China, which holds a 61 percent
stake in Shenzhen Airlines, declined comment.
Henan Airlines, previously known as Kunpeng
Airlines, was founded in 2006 as a joint venture
between Shenzhen Airlines and Mesa Air Group
of the US. The name was changed the following
year when Mesa pulled out.
A spokesman for Shanghai Airlines says it
is impossible for airlines to verify every pilot's
"China's aviation industry is so big and
growing every day. It makes it difficult for
the regulatory body to keep track of all the
pilots' qualifications and flying history,"
the spokesman says, declining to comment
According to CAAC director general
Li Jiaxiang, most of the pilots were hired
between March 2008 and June 2009,
when China's domestic aviation sector was
"These airlines were desperate for pilots to
meet their expansion requirements and even
resorted to hiring those from South America,"
Li says, adding that action had been taken
against the pilots found to have falsified their
Surprisingly, these pilots have not been fired,
but sent on refresher courses that pave the way
for them to return to their previous jobs.
Barely a week into the audit, China Express Air
was involved in an incident where the port wing
of a Bombardier CRJ 200 regional jet scraped
the runway on landing at Guiyang Airport in
southern China. The airline was grounded for
a week by the CAAC and ordered to carry out
safety checks on its fleet.
China had a poor safety record for much
of the 1990s, with accidents and incidents
arising from human error, poor maintenance
and failures in oversight by the authorities.
At the time, the country's aircraft fleet largely
comprised ageing locally built aircraft or Soviet-
era Russian designs.
This situation was eventually reversed
starting in 1997 by then-CAAC chief Yang
Yangyuan, who tackled the industry's
weaknesses head on, with help from overseas.
-- William Dennis
Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport wins expansion approval
After three changes of government in four
years, the Thai Government has finally given
the go-ahead for the expansion of Bangkok's
Suvarnabhumi Airport, increasing annual
passenger capacity by 15 million to 60 million.
The project will cost 62.5 billion baht
(US$1.95 billion) and involve the construction
of a second satellite building and an
underground people-mover system, linked to
the existing terminal. The satellite building will
also house airline offices.
A new concourse will accommodate 28
aircraft, with four slots able to accommodate
Airbus A380s. Two new taxiways will also
be constructed, although plans for the
construction of a third runway and a domestic
passenger terminal were shot down by
ministers, citing insufficient funds.
Airports of Thailand (AOT), which manages
the airport, will pay 45.05 billion baht for the
expansion, while the remaining 17.45 billion
baht will be from loans from a consortium of
According to AOT president Serirat
Prasutanond, a project consultant will be
hired to do the design work and appoint a
contractor. Construction is not expected to
start before 2012, with completion slated
for late 2015 or the first quarter of 2016.
A Shanghai Airlines spokesman says it is
impossible to check every pilot's resume.
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