Sat, Aug 25, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Flaming hell, you've fried my thong

By Johnny Neihu

This week was just another typical seven days of summer in Taiwan: politicians from both sides of the political fence blasting/commending the judiciary for being biased/impartial (delete as appropriate), a typhoon sweeping across the nation and bringing floods, destruction and scallions that cost more than Yangtze River dolphin caviar and, oh yeah, China Airlines (CAL) lost yet another plane.

Fortunately, this time all the passengers managed to escape the on-board barbecue just minutes after the plane landed on Okinawa.

You can just imagine the scene at the luggage carousel afterwards; it's hard enough trying to tell your luggage from everyone else's when it's in good condition, let alone when it looks like the remains of a bonfire after a rain shower.

Maybe the representative from CAL should have been handing out replacement Speedos, bikinis and beach towels instead of cash-filled red envelopes to console the disappointed holidaymakers.

Talk about white-knuckle rides -- I could only compare flying with Taiwan's flagship carrier to taking a balloon ride with Britain's bearded business buffoon, Richard Branson. You know it's going to come crashing down eventually -- you just don't know when and where. Maybe CAL should start charging passengers for their flight if and when it safely rolls up to the gate -- and not a moment earlier.

It's a shame really because, as you may or may not know, my gal Cathy Pacific started her illustrious career as a trolley dolly with CAL. She quite enjoyed working there in the early years, even though the pay was lousy. But I think it was the recitals of the Three Principles of the People (三民主義) and the bowing to the picture of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) that used to hang in the cockpit before each take off that got to her in the end.

I also used to fly China Airlines quite regularly as a youngster, as back then it was the only option for young Taiwanese with itchy feet (and because it took me over 48,000km to pluck up enough courage to ask Cathy out on a date), but I was always a bit skeptical of their policy of employing former Air Force pilots, especially after one flight to Hong Kong when the pilot started practicing dogfight maneuvers and bombing runs.

Things have changed since then. Several years ago the company started bringing in expat pilots to improve things. So much for that; according to the Associated Press, the pilot on Monday's flight, Yu Chien-kuo (猶建國), was an air force pilot for 20 years before joining CAL six years ago.

Obviously CAL has trouble employing enough expats, which is hardly surprising when, according to an article on Asia Sentinel's Web site, one expat pilot once quipped: "You have to remember that the guy in the right-hand seat is trying to kill you." Indeed.

Any patriot will be ashamed to know that -- according to -- China Airlines' safety record (in technospeak: its full loss equivalent [FLE] rate) is one of the world's worst. Worse, in fact, than that of Garuda, Indonesia, which, along with 50 other Indonesian airlines, was officially banned from flying to all airports in the EU on July 5.

It has always baffled me that CAL should have such a poor safety record in a country that is filled with so many intelligent, hard-working engineers -- especially when the national carriers of Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and Tobago, the Cayman Islands, Ghana, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Syria all have 25 years of blemish-free flying to boast of.

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