How do you say “Oops” in Chinese? China Eastern Airlines is pledging to improve the English-language skills of its crew following an incident in the Japanese city of Osaka where a Shanghai-bound China Eastern flight took off apparently without permission from the tower, in what may have been a simple case of broken communication between the pilot and controllers. Exact details of what happened at Osaka’s airport on Monday remain unclear, but Shanghai-based China Eastern is already promising to improve pilots’ English, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Xinhua cited a report from Japan’s Kyodo news agency (in Chinese) as saying an Airbus A330-200 took off just before 2:00 p.m. on Monday even though it didn’t have clearance from controllers. The state-run China Daily newspaper said Thursday that Japanese authorities were working to see whether the pilot intentionally ignored controllers’ instructions. The pilot of the China Eastern flight, MU516, was apparently instructed to taxi to a runaway and await further instructions. The plane took off instead. This week’s incident follows a bizarre case from August in which private Chinese airline Juneyao was temporarily banned from hiring foreign pilots after a Korean pilot on one of its flights refused to give way to a Qatar Airways jet that had issued a “mayday” call and requested immediate permission to land. In that incident, the Juneyao pilot ignored six orders from the control tower to first allow the Qatari jet to land. Both aircraft eventually touched down safely.
China Daily quoted unnamed experts as saying the pilot of the China Eastern airliner could face severe punishment from Chinese authorities. Japanese authorities have said they don’t plan to punish the pilot, according to the newspaper. China’s civil aviation authority said in 2007 that less than one-tenth of its pilots met international standards for English proficiency.