Six Air China Captains Fly A Boeing 747-8

Filed Under: Air China, Videos

Earlier I came across a really cool video on YouTube of Air China taking delivery of a Boeing 747-8 back in 2014 (yes, this was a long time ago, but when you’re home and not traveling you start to look for aviation videos online).

This was apparently the first Boeing 747-8 that Air China took delivery of, as pilots flew the plane from Paine Field (outside of Seattle) directly to Beijing.

Understandably this was a special flight, and Air China staffed it with six captains (not just pilots, but they’re all captains, as they all have four stripes). Usually when cockpit videos like this are recorded, the pilots go out of their way to follow all standard rules and cockpit protocols, but there are definitely some things that stand out here:

  • Two pilots are just standing in the cockpit, including during takeoff
  • The two pilots in the two jump seats aren’t wearing their seatbelts
  • One of the relief pilots is communicating with air traffic control, which is unusual if nothing else, since he doesn’t have nearly as good of a view of the control panel; usually one of the two pilots flying would do this

Admittedly this wasn’t a commercial flight, so perhaps regulations are relaxed, though you’ll still generally see pilots operating in compliance with FAA restrictions when in US airspace.

I can appreciate that this was a festive and special flight, and in a way it was cool to see cockpit activities so far out of the ordinary. That being said, it does feel a little strange to just have pilots standing in the cockpit during takeoff.

Anyway, you can watch the video below, and as an aviation geek it’s a really cool video to watch.

Personally I’m still hoping to fly with Air China’s Captain Panda sometime. 😉

What do you make of this Air China Boeing 747-8 delivery video?

  1. Lol, the sterile cockpit rule is almost never followed. You’d be surprised how many crews chit chat on the taxi out or in. Especially if its a long taxi.

  2. “Admittedly this wasn’t a commercial flight, but generally airlines are still subjected to FAA restrictions when operating in US airspace.”
    Once you leave you are no longer in the US.
    Do you have any evidence for thinking they broke the law?

  3. Look at the thumbnail of YT video. Top right-hand corner. The back of that protrusion (a screen?) coming down from the ceiling. I’m more concerned that the cable is secured by very flimsy looking, yellow masking tape. Isn’t this supposed to be a factory fresh Boeing aircraft?!

  4. The captain in 2nd row (right behind the main captain) did not wear the black tie. I am not sure but it looked like he even didn’t button his shirt. Well, I guess they just took the aircraft back to PEK so this is not really a “service flight” with pax so they can have a bit freedom. Only personal opinion.

  5. From what I can discern… most of the conversation between the pilots is flight-related. The pilot talking to ATC is likely interpreting for the others, as he repeats in Chinese (and the pilot in control does the same with multiple confirmations, e.g. confirming threshold crossings, takeoff clearance, altitude/direction changes) all the ATC commands.

  6. Really? 2014? Click bait. Why not add the year to the blog post? “ Six Air China Captains Irresponsibly Fly A 747-8 in 2014”

  7. @John, that yellow tape is wire bundle labeling, it’s not securing anything… completely standard practice.

  8. Ferry flights and charters don’t have the same safety regulations. If you ever fly on a commercial airline flight that’s a ferry, seatbelts are not required at any point and neither is sitting in your seat.

  9. What do you expect–it’s China. I have a relative who flew for a rich Chinese guy (as one of his personal pilots). To say that best practices aren’t held in the same high regard. . .would be an understatement. Half of my relative’s contract was spent arguing with middle managers about the need for X or Y in order to safely transport the billionaire. As the only western pilot in the operation, you can imagine the amount of head-banging required on a DAILY basis. The other pilots had various levels of experience acquired at Chinese airlines, PLAAF, etc.

    He ultimately tendered his resignation with a 10-page summary of safety infractions (some VERY serious issues). I saw a copy of the letter. He concluded by saying something to this effect: “I would not permit my family to ride as passengers on this airplane as presently crewed.”

    Needless to say, our extended relatives are wise enough to avoid Chinese airlines.

  10. Wow, that panda pilot made it look so easy. Went to Beijing 8 years ago with my wife and it was quite an ordeal to get into the city and to find Li Qun Peking duck restaurant. It’s probably a lot easier now with working cell phone service, Didi rideshare and google maps. It was impossible to get a taxi then. It didn’t help that we chose to stay at a charming hotel 1km from a metro stop in a historic Hutong neighborhood without taxis that no one could navigate.

  11. Be careful, Lucky, or you’re gonna get on the Chinese government’s bad side. ;-\

  12. I rarely have a captain obey sterile cockpit, but after I sit silently for a few minutes they stop talking. Works better than saying sterile cockpit.

  13. If this is the worst they got up to on a ferry flight, there really isn’t a story here.

  14. FAA sterile cockpit rules only apply when an aircraft is moving under its own power, not towing. An airline might have stricter rules the pilots must follow.

    @Mark. A ferry flight is strictly a ferry flight, no passengers. A commercial flight with passengers can’t be a ferry flight. Passengers not allowed on ferry flights. Ferry flights require special authorization which doesnt take long to acquire. 99% of the time its because of a maintenance issue. Yes, seatbelts must be worn on ferry or charter flights whether up in the cockpit or in the back.

  15. @Lucky: I am going to pile on the criticism, but it is about your (poor) choice of a title.

    “irresponsibly fly” does not make sense. How about “…violated FAA safety regulations on 747-8 delivery flight”

  16. I’m somewhat surprised this is a delivery flight in the first place. My understanding has been a delivery is usually takeoff from PAE is with a Boeing team. Everyone waits until they get out into international waters, *then* the crews are swapped, and the keys delivered, contracts exchanged, etc. (Yes, there are keys.) It’s a tax thing — waiting until intl waters cuts the tax bill down considerably.

    Or such has been what I’ve been told. I could be wrong, and clearly that wasn’t what was done here. Unless they went out earlier, did the swap, came back to PAE for finishing touches, and *then* this crew took it out. I don’t know.

  17. @ Lucky

    If you truly only knew what used to transpire back in the “good ole days” of flying ( even in the 1980’s and 1990’s ) when we had smoking in the cabin and 10 minute turns and lots of fun , fun , fun and yes hot pants and shorts and tennis shoes I could write a book and that 737 dash 200 series would tell the “complete story” haha

  18. I have stood in cockpit the entire flight on 707 and 727 cargo planes from Guatemala City to Miami. Pilots were Veenzuelan. Only one jump seat and a broken folding beach chair.

  19. Well here is the deal China purchasing the jet meant people working at Boeing and suppliers get to keep their jobs but you didn’t think about that. Airlines don’t like people like you who get paid by certain airlines to trash competitors. So dong brag about flying first class some of us own jets and don’t brag about it. Show some class, respect and GET A REAL JOB.

  20. @Lucky, I second what Luke said.

    Would be very careful what I say about Chinese companies.

  21. @Pete need for wearing face masks in 2014? Lucky mentioned that it was a special flight back in 2014. I do not think it would warrant the pilots to have to wear face masks back then.

  22. I’ve seen worse. Back in ’99 to 2000 I had more than monthly travel between Japan and Singapore. Often with Japanese colleagues. The Singapore airlines pilots had a habit of chatting up Japanese 20-something female passengers before boarding. They would invite them into the cockpit during flight and some of my colleagues claimed this included eating with the pilots and for take-off or landing.

    It became a favorite topic dinners out with my Japanese female colleagues comparing notes on their cockpit experiences and rating which pilots were the best looking.

    It was all funny until SQ006 tried to take off from the wrong, under construction, runway in TPE in October, 2000. Never heard another cute girl in the cockpit story after that. Although events of September, 2001 are obviously another reason.

  23. Personally Ive never flown AIR CHINA no reason to and this would certainly give me no comfort , it doesn’t appear professional- my opinion !

  24. Lucky – remember what you wrote about the “oxygen bottle incident” with CX last year? here’s your words –

    “In other words, the odds of this actually being an issue are very small, since depleted oxygen tanks are only an issue in the case of an emergency. These are the tanks that the crew would use in an emergency, and not even the supply for the oxygen masks for passengers in the event of a depressurization.

    I also find it interesting that in all cases only a minority of the tanks had been tampered with.

    What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t look like anyone is actually trying to cause great harm, since it’s highly unlikely they’d get to the point where this becomes the difference between life and death.”

    Does your personal preference dictate right and wrong?

  25. Wouldn’t fly a Chinese airline for free. You get what you pay for…in the cockpit and pax cabin. I can see why some are enticed by crazy cheap at time J class fares but is it worth it?
    Thanks for the heads-up reinforcing certain airlines and carriers are to be avoided at all costs. Lucky.

  26. Living under some of the flight patterns out of Paine Field, I think I would have a reason to be concerned. Shouldn’t there be some action by the FAA on this? Any authority?

  27. As a bilingual pilot who have worked for a major US carrier, Boeing, and in the training center of a major Chinese carrier, I can’t help but point out that many of your criticisms are stereotype based and unfair.

    While I am not certified on the 747, I do want to point out several interesting observations, for better or worse:
    – The video doesn’t show any conversation that’s really considered a violation of sterile cockpit. The farthest extent the conversations went was when the left seat pointed out the Everett museum observation deck that they toured the day prior, and speculation on taxiway layout. They are all very lite, flying related conversations, certainly amongst the more proper ones as far as cockpit conversations go
    – It appears that the left seat captain has subpar English skills (right seat seems to be able to understand and execute fine)
    – Pilot in the center observer seat seems to be acting as the communicator/navigator, as an additional resource and to compensate for the lack of language skills in the left seat (nothing wrong with that, if anything it provides greater operational assurance and reduced cockpit workload for PF and PM)
    – In the above case, it would be nearly impossible for the center pilot to reach the transmission button on the center pedestal while wearing the harness
    – My guess is that the two pilots in the back are safety observers, as they have the best vantage point besides PF and PM. But I have no idea why they would staff the crew like that
    – These are actually very good pilots: they seem to have done a very good job with SOP, verbal communications, checking and cross checking, probably to the extent that’s better than a lot of airline pilots in the US and Europe
    – Did I mention that the left seat flew manually by hand all the way up to about 15,000ft?? Not a lot of people do this, my guess is that he’s also ex-military

    Do these people seem like good pilots that I would be comfortable flying with? Absolutely!
    Although there are some weird things going on with the staffing etc., do keep in mind that non-passenger flights work VERY differently. I worked with some Boeing test pilots not too long ago. They have very few rules, and essentially make up their own operating procedures to a large degree. Similarly with these delivery flights, crews have a bit more flexibility and is generally in a more relaxed environment (keep in mind they are people too)
    Of course it’s easy to find criticisms for people in just about any profession. But I don’t think you’re really being fair here to look at things through a harsher set of lenses just because the pilots are Chinese

  28. That yellow tape is wire bundle label and I know for a fact it has a connector number stamped on it. The wiring is related to background lighting for the standby magnetic compass. Yes that so called screen is a Standby magnetic compass.

    Nothing out of the ordinary here, normal cockpit chit chat. Crew do it all the time. As soon as you sit on the plane and doors are closed, theoretically, FAA rules no longer apply to a foreign owned aircraft, unless it has ‘N’ registration on it.
    People read way too much into things these days

  29. Search “virgin a350 cockpit” on Youtube and You will find a official video from Virgin with Richard Branson flying their new A350. During that flight one pilot standing during its not just China. Probably different rules during ferry flights.

  30. LOL did Trump pay you for this post? It looks like his style though. It’s totally understandable since now all global travels are banned thanks to the hard work of your administration and all travel bloggers’ main income source are cut off. But going to this low, you are establishing a new low-end standard Lucky.

  31. I guess you really have nothing to do besides writing something back in 2014. Very biased and self-degrading.

  32. Did people even read the blog and know this flight happened back in 2014?

    And seriously Lucky? Guess you are having nothing else to do during your quarantine and decided to make this an article… Shame on you ️

  33. Search “Virgin a350 cockpit” on Youtube. Same story within Europe with Mr Branson in the cockpit.

  34. The lesson is don’t fly Chinese owned Airlines or Chinese piloted aircraft. China has a history of pilots practicing unsafe and unhealthy behavior including smoking in the cockpit or taking naps. If I fly to China I will fly a western airline with hopefully western pilots. Singapore, Cathay and Japan don’t have this problem so this is unique to mainland China (with Cathay having a lot of western pilots it should be noted). There is a similarity between these pilots and how Chinese tourists are known to behave on vacation. Japan doesn’t have this problem.

    Aside from the curiosity of seeing the Great Wall of China, I rather see other Asian countries like Japan and Korea.

  35. @Jonathan

    Finally someone with proper credentials to point out some facts.
    Just as all of us are suddenly became a pandemic virus experts 2 months ago, today we became an experienced 747 pilot.

    Sanity in a non commercial flight went away when 707 did a barrel roll. This is nothing.
    I’m still waiting here for tales from @Sean M.

  36. Why would these Chinese pilots have any regard for the rules? Their government is an evil regime. They recklessly released this awful plague upon the world. I highly respect Chinese Americans, but China needs to be pushed back to the 1950’s. They’ll never be a respected world leader, just sketchy, dirty liars! Boycott China now !

  37. @Lucky
    OT but still about chinese airlines: China Southern left SkyTeam but retained most of accrual/redemption/benefits partners and even gained new partners (AA). Even better than Alaska now. Dig into it @Lucky

  38. Personally, as a Chinese, I cannot understand why so many guys leaving comments down there seems to have a sarcastic tone over the video. It seems like some pilots had got well trained but others hadn’t, so some of them are just behind those well-trained pilots and observed their action.

  39. @ Jackson Henderson
    I’m gonna remind you that two JAL pilots has been charged with drinking before their flight in 2019 or 2018, can’t remember the exact year but you can google and it is there. Lucky also wrote an article about it as I remembered.
    Your point on Chinese tourist is even more inappropriate and it just sounds really racist. Keep it to yourself if you can only make this kind of offensive comment.

  40. What’s with all the comments complaining about this being from 2014? Do you people know how blogs work? OMAAT is not a newspaper. Lucky has no obligation to post only the most relevant current events of the aviation world. So he’s bored at home and found an old video that was new to him and interesting… he’s not allowed to blog about it because it’s not from 2020?

  41. A little bit late to the party, but it seems like the captain did not push the thrust to 100% power on takeoff and only realized when the center seat pilot notified him. I’m not a pilot but that seems like a pretty big mistake.

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