China's aviation authority is investigating three Chengdu Airlines pilots after they landed a plane using autopilot in poor weather conditions, despite warnings that that would place the passengers in danger.
The "serious violation of landing procedures" occurred on April 5 during a flight from Chengdu , Sichuan province, to Nanning , the capital of the coastal Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing a classified cable.
The report said the Nanning aircraft control personnel repeatedly warned the pilots to delay landing due to poor visibility. But they defied the instruction and landed the aircraft on autopilot.
They were later suspended despite landing successfully.
The airline yesterday said on its website that it had grounded the trio for misconduct.
"We are currently under scrutiny by the industry regulator and will punish whoever was responsible for the incident," it said.
Using the autopilot to land a plane, or "blind landing", is only permitted under strict conditions because not every airport has the necessary equipment to accommodate its use.
The incident prompted the Civil Aviation Administration to send a team to investigate the pilots and the airline.
"The pilot disregarded procedure. His actions showed a lack of regard for the airline and passengers," Li Shuwen, an inspector at the administration, said of the senior pilot on the flight.
Some Chengdu Airlines crew members also criticised the pilots, saying what they did was potentially dangerous, the report said.
"It reminds me of the Yichun flight crash," a crew member said, referring to an incident in 2010. The crash during landing, which occurred in Heilongjiang province, left 44 dead and 52 injured.
The Nanning incident follows China Southern Airlines' suspension in February of a pilot for misconduct after his plane scratched an antenna of a control tower during landing. In 2011, Global People magazine said the mainland was experiencing a shortage of pilots and forecast a national shortfall of 18,000 pilots by 2015 - a problem that could potentially limit the development of the national aviation industry.
That has forced some airlines to offer higher pay to draw pilots, but doing so at the expense of spending on marketing and maintenance.
The problem was partly because the aviation profession was no longer viewed as glamorous, said Sherry Carbary, president of Alteon Training, an independent pilot training school.