China Airlines pilots strike in the middle of Lunar New Year holiday

Twenty-six flights to and from Taiwan’s international airports have been cancelled after pilots from the China Airlines branch of Pilots Union Taoyuan began a strike from 6:00am today, February 8.

Up to 4,000 passengers may be affected from today, Friday, to Sunday, the last day of the Lunar New Year holiday. Travelers with flights booked with China Airlines can check the status of their flights here.

The pilots’ union announced the strike at midnight last night after negotiations broke down with airline management over a range of demands that included reducing fatigue and pilot workload on long haul flights, improving transparency in the training and promotion of co-pilots, and guarantees in recruitment and work rights of local pilots (Taiwan nationals).

The Ministry of Transportation has set up an emergency response center to cope with what is feared could turn into a crisis as the strike comes at the busiest travel time of the year, when many people are returning home at the end of a 9-day Lunar New Year holiday.

However, China Airlines Senior Vice-President Gao Xinghuang (高星潢) said that many pilots were continuing to work, and fulfilling their responsibilities for the Spring Festival holiday.

“Some of the pilots who are usually opposed to the company are also serving today. Thanks to these pilots.” Guo was quoted as saying in a United Daily News report.

But a union spokesperson, Chen Bei-bei (陳蓓蓓) warned that many pilots had received phone calls at two, three, or four o’clock this morning requesting that they go to work today, and that this could have a serious affect on flight safety, according to another report in United Daily News.

It is estimated that around 10% of the 1,339 pilots employed by the airline have stopped work, with around 10% of flights affected, according to statements by airline management.

Chen Bei-bei told reporters that desks had been set up at airports by the union so that pilots could hand in their pilot certificates. Without the certificates, they are not allowed to take command of an aircraft. By 9:00am, more than 100 certificates had been handed in, Chen said, in a Liberty Times Network report.

Taiwan airman certificate
Striking pilots hand in their “Airman Certificates” to the union, and are not allowed to fly without one.

Union Chairman Lee Hsin-yan (李信燕) said that the desks will continue to be manned, and more and more pilots will hand in their certificates over the next few days, and more passengers will be affected.

The airline is doing its best to make arrangements for affected travelers, including allocating larger aircraft to cope with the reduced number of flights, and helping passengers book with other carriers.

Pilot Faints during Press Conference

During a press conference held by the pilot’s union this morning, a pilot attending to lend his support after just having finished a shift, fainted, causing a commotion, and lending dramatic effect to the union’s claims that pilots were overworked. The pilot recovered after being helped to a sofa to rest.

man faints at press conference
Union workers help a pilot who fainted during the press conference. Picture: Now News.

Other Professional Unions Express Solidarity

Two medical professionals’ unions expressed solidarity with the pilots’ strike today. Open letters from the Taipei Physician’s Professional Trade Union and the Taiwan University Hospital Trade Union cited similarities with overworked physicians, and overworked pilots, and called for China Airlines to take responsibility to guarantee passengers a safe journey.

The Taipei City Physician Professional Union said on Facebook that the work of doctors and pilots are often comparable. Both require professional training for many years in order to cope with unforeseen unexpected situations. If they are not able to respond in time, the cost is precious: that of human life.

executives bow in apology
China Airlines executives bow in apology after a breakdown in negotiations results in a pilot strike potentially affecting thousands of passengers. Picture: CNA

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