Last week, I wrote about an Air China 737-800 that rapidly descended due to a loss of cabin pressure. At the time, Air China and Chinese authorities believed it was due to pilots smoking in the flight deck, but the case was still under investigation.
Well, the investigation has been closed. Air China has confirmed that the issue occurred because a pilot accidentally flipped off the air conditioning switch in the cockpit in order to try to hide smoke from his e-cigarette.
Air China has forcefully and publicly terminated not just the smoking first officer, but the captain as well:
After an investigation to verify the incident, the decision is to suspend the related crew from flying and terminate the contracts in accordance with the law. The crew members who are responsible for the incident have been seriously dealt with.
Many are clamoring for the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to revoke the licenses of the pilots involved to ensure they do not wind up on another airline. For its part, the CAAC has seized the 737’s flight data and voice recorders and is conducting its own thorough investigation.
A Change In Culture?
It was appropriate that Air China fire this flight crew. The first officer, naturally, because he was the one smoking and flipped off the air conditioning. But the captain as well. He should have forbid his first officer from smoking and noticed when the a/c switch was flipped off.
But will this very public example and Air China’s strict condemnation of onboard smoking lead to any lasting change? After all, it seems that smoking is so ingrained into the Chinese pilot culture based upon my first-hand observation and numerous reports of others.
While impossible to inspect every flight, Air China’s no-tolerance policy will certainly discourage many pilots from smoking. But what about China Eastern, China Southern, and the dozens of other Chinese airlines? Just as the Chinese Ministry of Health banned all indoor smoking in China a couple years ago, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) should issue its own governmental ban against pilot smoking.
I’m generally against smoking bans, but fully support them on airplanes even behind the closed doors of cockpits or crew rest areas. Why? Because the onboard air circulation systems subject everyone onboard to smoke. That is not only uncomfortable, but as we saw with the Air China 737-800 incident, can put the lives of passengers in jeopardy.
image: Aero Icarus / Wikimedia Commons