On March 31, 14 flights of China Eastern Airlines Yunnan Branch turned back to Kunming without landing at their destinations. Passengers were told it was due to poor weather conditions.
However, the weather did not affect flights from other airlines to the same destinations.
The real reason was a strike by disgruntled pilots, according to the April 2 Guangzhou Daily.
China's airline industry has been hit by a number of pilot protests in the last few weeks. On March 14, 40 Shanghai Airlines pilots took sick leave. On March 28, eleven pilots from Wuhan's East Star Airline requested sick leave.
An April 1 emergency meeting of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) blamed the strikes on a lack of qualified pilots and poor consultation procedures. CAAC said pilots who took strike action on March 31 would be severely punished, and strike leaders may face a lifetime employment ban.
In 2004, when China's first private airline, Okay Airways, was founded, China had about 10,000 pilots flying 700 airplanes. Private capital has since poured into the industry. By 2010, China expects to have 1,250 domestic commercial jets, which will require at least 6,500 more pilots.
Domestic aviation schools train only 600 to 800 pilots each year, so private companies have frequently been forced to headhunt for more pilots.
Pilots in state-owned companies have been forced to sign 99-year contracts with their employers. If they quit, they must pay compensation ranging from 700,000 to 2.1 million yuan.
Some angry pilots from these companies choose to leave and have filed a series of lawsuits against the airways over the past two years, but so far the suits have been either ignored or thrown out of court.
"The only option left for us is to go on strike," said a pilot for China Eastern Airlines who would not give his name.
Experts advocate more training schools and hiring foreign pilots to solve the problem.
(China.org.cn, CRI April 2, 2008)