A pilot from China Eastern is recently engaged in a gnawing
labor dispute after he handed in his resignation. His employer
claims for a stunning 12.57 million yuan compensation for his
Zheng Zhihong, the pilot, once served in the Air Force, and was
enrolled as a civil pilot in 1995. Years of efforts turned him into
a captain and veteran instructor.
On May 17, 2007, Zheng Zhihong handed in his resignation to
Yunnan Branch of China Eastern, asking to discontinue his
flexible-term labor contract. But after one month’s wait, he didn’t
get the nod. On June 17, he took legal recourse by appealing to
local labor arbitration authority.
In response to his suing, the airlines countersued Zheng, asking
Zheng to continue to fulfill the labor contract. Otherwise they
would claim for damage incurred by his leave, including his
training cost and other sundry expenses.
The labor arbitration agency held a hearing on the morning of
August 14 to mediate between the two sides, but no positive result
was yielded due to their great divergence. The case will be finally
ruled upon on August 24.
Industry insiders believe that the case reflects a serious
shortage of pilots faced by China's airlines in case of the rapid
development of civil aviation industry in recent years.
China has only some 10,000 pilots serving in China’s civil
airlines, flying more than 800 planes. It is estimated that China
needs 2300 more jet planes in next 20 years as China will be the
second largest aviation market in the world. That means the
industry will require at least 6,500 more civil pilots in next six
to seven years.
To help ease the increasingly acute shortage, the government has
given green lights for airlines to recruit pilots from abroad.
However, the introduction of overseas pilots is occurring on a
scale too small to meet the growing demand.
In 2004, the General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC)
began to issue national flying licenses, instead of former regional
ones, hoping to encourage the recruitment of pilots. However, it
also enables pilots to work across the country. Previously, a pilot
would only be given a local certificate that allows him to work in
a certain region. Thereafter, job-hopping among pilots has
In China, it usually costs some 500,000 to 700,000 yuan to train
a qualified pilot while the sum is usually covered by the employer
airlines. From a pilot to an experienced captain, it needs ten
years around long.
In March 2005, China’s first private airlines, Okay Airways,
started its maiden flight, breaking the government monopoly in
civil aviation sector. Thereafter, a dozen other private airlines
have entered the market, luring pilots from state-owned
Private airlines have to compete to offer better salaries and
benefits to hunt pilots from their rivals. The competition has led
to the problem of “job-hopping.” To stop the drainage of pilots,
state-run airlines often claim large compensation when pilots
To prevent "vicious competition" among the airlines, the General
Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), China's
civil-aviation regulator, has established limits for job-hopping
charges ranging from 700,000 to 2.1 million yuan.
Published news shows that so far the number of pilots who have
successfully quit and left to other airlines is only less than 50,
while another 100 pilots who have submitted their resignations are
still been trapped in labor arbitration or lawsuits.
Some optimistic view says that the acute shortage of pilots
would be eased in five years as China has embarked on a large-scale
In June 2004, 14 former pilots working for state-owned China
Xinhua Airlines handed in their resignations and left for the Okay
Airlines, a private one. The compensation for the job-hopping was
settled down after long negotiation between the two
On July 12, two captains from the Jiangsu Branch of China
Eastern Airlines (state-owned) submitted their resignations. Local
court ruled that the two pilots pay one million yuan respectively
to the airline for their quit.
On November, 2004, one pilot resigned from the Hainan Airlines
and then left for a private airline, United Eagle Airlines. The new
employer paid one million yuan compensation to the former one.
On April, 2005, one pilot from the state-owned Xiamen Airlines
handed in his resignation letter demanding a compensation of 1.35
million yuan for flying overtime and other accusations. The
airlines then filed a countercharge and claimed a compensation of
3.23 million yuan. Finally, labor-arbitration authority ruled the
pilot’s resignation invalid and demanded him to pay 1.2 million
yuan to the Airlines.
On November 17, 2006, the headquarters of China Eastern Airlines
signed an agreement with the Eastern Star Airlines, a private
airlines. The latter paid 2.1 million yuan each for 22 former
pilots from the former. Adding settling-in allowance, Eastern Star
paid some 3 million yuan for each of these pilot.
When 13 pilots from the Wuhan Company of China Eastern Airlines
handed in their resignations they faced a compensation of 105
million yuan claimed by the airlines. On August 13, the local
labor-arbitration agency ruled that the 13 pilots should pay a
total sum of 9.29 million yuan to their former employer.
(China.org.cn by Wang Zhiyong and He Shan)