Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chinese pilots faking it

Probe Finds Chinese Pilots Faking Flight Histories

Sep 8, 2010

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Sept. 8) -- A government probe has found that at least 170 Chinese pilots have falsified their flight histories, renewing concerns over China's air safety in the wake of an Aug. 24 crash that killed 42.

That crash of a Henan Airlines flight, during a landing at a foggy airport in northeastern China, was the country's first major air accident in six years.

A firefighter searches for victims near a burning Chinese passenger jet after it crashed in Yichun in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, Aug. 25.

But the finding highlights how administrative overload, corruption and nepotism are plaguing China's commercial aviation industry as rapid growth outpaces regulators' ability to properly screen personnel and ensure better air safety.

Regulators' inability to keep up with roaring growth in today's go-go China has resulted in a proliferation of fraud, quackery and graft by individuals and companies.

China's freight turnover and passenger numbers hit new records in July, as aviation sector profits grew to $950 million, a 364 percent year-on-year increase, according to a China Business News report cited by the People's Daily Online.

Passenger volume totaled 126 million in the first half of this year, up nearly 18 percent year-on-year, according to a Xinhua report.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced the findings on pilots' padded resumes at an Aug. 26 conference, but it was first reported by the China Business News on Sept. 6. The CAAC began looking more broadly into the issue of pilots' qualifications in its probe of the Aug. 24 crash.

The Global Times, citing that report, said that more than half of the pilots who inflated resumes in 2008 and 2009 were from Shenzhen Airlines, which holds a 51 percent stake in Henan Airlines.

China has about 13,000 commercial pilots, the report said. The Global Times quoted an anonymous employee at Shenzhen Airlines who said pilots bribed officials and tapped relatives in order to avoid scrutiny and get good posts.

The source said that some 170 pilots had fudged their flying histories, "But only three pilots were punished and suspended from flying, as Shenzhen Airlines was in desperate need of pilots in its developing period."

In a recent commentary, the Institute of Chinese Economics' Justin Li said several high-profile scandals in China's aviation sector showed that "endemic corruption within the aviation industry exposes the Achilles' heel of China's economic reform and development."

Li Jiaxiang, the director of the CAAC, said at the conference that the lack of qualifications of the pilot and captain were to blame for the Henan Airlines crash, Global Times reported.

The China Daily quoted one aviation expert saying that aviation officials had to do a better job of checking pilots' credentials.

"The civil aviation administration should have stopped those who falsified their flying histories. If not, they are also to be blamed for their relaxed inner controls and lack of supervision over the airlines," said Liu Weimin, aviation expert with the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China.

"The pilot's documentations to apply for a certificate to pilot commercial planes should be strictly audited by the administration. Random checks should be carried out by the authority to check on these pilots," he said.

A pilot who only gave his surname, Xu, told the China Daily that falsification of flying history was rampant, especially by former military pilots hoping to land cushy jobs in the commercial sector.

"The rapid expansion of China's civil aviation requires more commercial pilots, and the gap was usually filled up by those pilots who drive military aircrafts but transferred to commercial flights," he said, according to the China Daily.

"These pilots were very likely to falsify their flying history in the military since it is hard to track and verify. By doing this, they can get promoted more quickly in flying commercial airplanes," he told the Daily.

"The airline companies only keep half an eye on this since they are happy to see more pilots certified by the administrative agency," he said.

The problem of inflating or faking credentials is hardly unique to China's aviation sector.

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The Xinhua Daily Telegraph recently reported on a well-known Beijing proctology clinic that the report alleges misrepresented itself in advertisements, falsified the resume of its head proctologist, and made other fraudulent claims. The Telegraph's report was translated at

Individuals who "out" fraudsters run the risk of retaliation. In July, thugs wielding a hammer and antiseptic spray attacked popular blogger Fang Zhouzi, who became famous for exposing academic and scientific fraud.

Fang's most high-profile achievements were exposing a sham "cancer preventation" drug and debunking a former president of Microsoft China's claim that he held a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.

The former Microsoft official later admitted his degree was actually from Pacific Western University in California, which the Christian Science Monitor described as "a diploma mill that sold academic credentials and required no classroom instruction," citing a 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In a bizarre twist, a doctor recently came forward alleging that Fang himself faked the hammer and antiseptic attack in order to promote himself and his books, according to a report in Global Times.

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