Captain's Authority

The following letter was sent via email to the webmaster's airline colleagues in response to unjust disciplinary action taken by the airline against a captain for his exercise of authority. Chinese airlines, like other corporations in the PRC, operate in a very rigid "top down" command structure. Often, the autocratic management character conflicts with the necessary empowerment of front-line employees, and notably can interfere with the pilot-in command's handling of moment to moment challenges. I include it here as an admonishment for other pilots to never be intimidated by those who respect power more than safety or proper conduct on an airplane. The situation received a fair amount of public attention on the English and Chinese internet.


From: Captain Philip
To: (42 recipients)
Subject: Captain's Authority
Date: Aug 16 at 10:43 AM

Hello Colleagues,

Returning from Bangkok, I found an interesting company SMS message waiting for me, with this section in Chinese (Bing Translation):

全体飞行员积极服从派遣,投入飞行,顺利完成航班生产任务,展现了飞行队伍良好的战斗力、凝聚力,部门对大家的辛勤付出表示感谢! 二、部门再次强调飞行员应按手册规定的程序和标准运行,在手册规定的范围内行使权力,并承担安全和运行责任。


Translating to:

Active obedience of all pilots to send into flight, the successful completion of flight tasks, showing good flight team effectiveness, cohesion, sector members expressed appreciation for the hard work!

Second, the Department once again stressed that pilots should be as stipulated in the Handbook of procedures and criteria for running and exercise of powers within the provisions of the manuals, and security and operational responsibilities.

Then, while riding in a taxi, I was told that the driver had tuned in a radio talk show - discussing a situation in which an airline captain and crew were subject to vulgar verbal abuse from a youngster and her parents. Fruit never falls far from the tree, does it? Anyway, the captain had the morons removed from the plane.

Good for that captain, I say, with personal experience similarly ejecting drunk, belligerent, or abusive passengers in my previous jobs. On the radio, they even cited the rule on captain's authority. The FINAL and highest authority as to operation of the aircraft and any situations involving the crew and passengers.

Then I learned that the captain is here at [XXXXX Airlines], in group 4. He received suspension and office duty as punishment for exercising his authority as pilot in command. Told to reference his error in the rules, the rules actually support the power that is his and his alone. Is he not "directly responsible for and the final authority" for that flight's operation, including matters of anyone aboard the aircraft?

I want to congratulate him on learning well from us during his time as a copilot in this group. Removing such passengers prevents further interference with crew duties plus defends effectiveness and cohesion of the crew.

Experience taught me that such people tend to escalate the trouble, and taking their side against the crew does much more harm than good. Furthermore, they tend to offend other passengers, so be rid of them before leaving the gate.

Sometimes you must do what you know is right, then stand up and take the punishment like an adult. After your last breath, stand tall before the Maker with a soul free of blemishes.


Fly Safely & Leave Your Troubles on the Ground,
Phlip Collier



Tags: Authority of the pilot in command, captain's authority, Airline Autocrats, Chinese Airlines

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