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Foreign Pilots Working in China Removed From Duties Without Pay

A China Southern Airlines Boeing 777-300ER departing from Los Angeles airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of more than 450 people, airlines in China are now having to significantly downsize their flying programs due to the lack of demand in travel.

Last week saw a great number of major airlines across the globe significantly reduce their frequencies to mainland China, or cancel flights indefinitely, in an attempt to help reduce the virus spreading to other countries. The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific has announced its plans to cut 30 percent of its global capacity, as well as 90 percent of flights to China for the foreseeable future following a “consequential significant drop” in market demand.

Airlines in China are now reducing the number of flights being operated. But it appears that many airlines are forcing flight crew, in particular, those who are not native, to return to their home countries without pay.

According to sources close to flight crews employed by China Southern Airlines, a company email effective from Feb. 4 was sent out informing all foreign pilots that they are being placed on leave without pay until further notice. It is also reported that should flight crew become unable to return to work due to travel restrictions, their contracts could be terminated.

The letter sent out to pilots said: “As the spread of novel coronavirus continues, the number of confirmed and suspected cases are increasing. Now many countries have imposed flight restrictions and many airlines at home and abroad suspend flights to and from China. “

“Confronted with this situation, our company has made the latest decision as follows: All foreign pilots, including those who have applied for leave exemption and those who have not applied, shall start a non-fixed term leave without pay as soon as possible (Those who have flight duties should firstly complete the current one and get confirmation from the fleet before starting the LWOP) until our company inform pilots to return to work after situation gets better.”

China Eastern Airlines gave their foreign pilots the option to leave the country without pay, or remain working. Hainan Airlines Group has also reportedly released all their non-native pilots on leave without pay.

It is not yet known if any native pilots working for these airlines have also been given the same orders. For many years the Chinese aviation industry has relied heavily on foreign pilots coming to work in the country that has helped fuel the boom in the aviation sector.

Pilots that do make the leap are on some of the best-paid contracts in the world starting from $200,000 – $300,000 with commutable patterns from day one of employment.


  • Jack Dawin

    Jack is a keen aviation enthusiast from the United Kingdom. He has been flying since the age of 13 and today operates in the airline industry

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