Last week, an Air China flight from Hong Kong to Dalian, in northeastern China, plunged 25,000 feet (6,500 meters) in 10 minutes. The reason for the emergency descent? A co-pilot was jonesing for a puff of his e-cigarette so badly that he went to shut off the cockpit fan to conceal the vapor cloud, but accidentally turned off the cabin air-conditioning — and oxygen levels dropped suddenly.
- Though the plane regained its altitude and landed safely in Dalian, this actually went against protocol, which dictates an oxygen loss should be immediately followed by an emergency landing, according to the South China Morning Post.
- The plane’s captain and first officer both had their licenses revoked, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said, and Air China was ordered to pay a small fine of 50,000 yuan ($7,500) and conduct a three-month safety review.
- Air China was also ordered to reduce the flight hours of its Boeing 737 fleet by 10 percent, though analysts indicated that the major airlines’ market dominance — Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and China Southern Airlines have all seen record profits in recent years — meant this wouldn’t have a lasting effect on Air China’s business.
- Some aviation analysts say the punishment isn’t sufficient: Will Horton, a Hong Kong–based analyst for the CAPA Centre for Aviation, expressed his dissatisfaction on Twitter, stating that “firing those involved and suggesting licence revoking quells the public but doesn’t address underlying problem(s).”