Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 10 News List

China Airlines takes air safety to new levels

TURNAROUND From being an airliner with a safety record that scared away customers, China Airlines has turned the corner and is now getting international praise

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

Dean Young, chief pilot of China Airlines' Boeing 747-400 fleet.

PHOTO: JESSIE HO, TAIPEI TIMES

Hearing flight crews talking about aviation safety sounds like a cliche. But it is undeniable that no one cares about safety issues more than they do -- because they make a living out of doing so.

Dean Young (楊定輝), chief pilot of China Airlines' (中華航空) Boeing 747-400 fleet with over 500 pilots under his command, is even more qualified to address the matter as he is, after all, an employee and not an airline manager who might be preoccupied with cost-effectiveness.

The 53-year-old aviation veteran retired from the Taiwan Air Force in 1990 before serving as chief pilot of the Airbus 320 fleet at Transasia Airways Corp (復興航空). A few years later, he moved to French aircraft maker Airbus SAS as a check pilot. In that capacity, he helped airlines set up standards on flight operations and pilot training.

With piloting experience of about 15,000 flight hours, Young joined China Airlines in 2000 and has since then been helping to monitor the airline's efforts to guarantee flight safety.

"As people know, China Airlines employs a considerable number of retired military pilots, and it is very important to enhance their knowledge, language skills and discipline," Young told the Taipei Times after piloting a new Boeing 747-400 jet from Seattle to Taipei on Dec. 9.

Over the past 45 years, China Airlines has given people a two-sided impression -- a symbol with the beautiful national flower painted on the tails of its airplanes, but also a poor safety record.

The carrier began to standardize and reform its flight procedures, the first step to improve flight safety, in 2000. In addition, the company has spent huge amounts on recruiting new blood and has adopted strict standards in training recruits, Young said.

In recent years, China Airlines has recruited outstanding pilots from well-known and reputable international airlines, such as Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Belgian carrier Sabena Airlines. Foreign pilots currently account for about one-fourth of China Airlines' pilot personnel.

The airline has also spent large amounts on training cadet pilots since 1988.

It trains its pilots according to BAE Systems Flight Training, developed by an Australian flying school based in Adelaide, that provides the world's finest pilot training. The company upholds a stringent screening process that ensures the qualification of pilots.

But passing the entrance examination does not mean a pilot is secure in his job at China Airlines forever. Pilots in the company are tested every three months in a flight simulator and their handling of nonscheduled raids situations are also monitored, according to Young.

In the tests, besides standardized flight procedure, the pilots are given various emergency situations to overcome. An example of this is how to successfully land an aircraft when parts of the plane malfunction in bad weather, he said.

Pilots failing to pass the tests are required to enhance their skills until they can handle all kinds of critical situations without endangering a single life on board, he said.

Discipline is also an important issue to the carrier.

In October last year, China Airlines sacked a pilot who was found to be intoxicated shortly before a flight in the US. The airline meted out the most severe penalty to the pilot after tests showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.087 percent, more than twice the legal level of 0.04 percent, shortly ahead of his scheduled flight from Anchorage to New York on Sept. 25.

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