An Air Guilin captain who let a young woman believed to be his fiancée sit in the cockpit at the controls of an aircraft in midair will face more disciplinary action after already being barred from piloting a plane for life.

It was also believed that heads would roll at the carrier, a subsidiary under the umbrella of aviation conglomerate HNA. The airline was also under a Chinese Civil Aviation Administration division overseeing operations in southwestern China including Guangxi, where the airline is headquartered.

A deputy director of the civil aviation watchdog called the incident, which caused a commotion after the woman posted pictures of herself inside the cockpit on her Weibo account earlier this month, a “typical deliberate violation” of safety protocols.

He told a press conference on Monday that the administration would mete out further punishment to the captain and his girlfriend in an ongoing investigation to see if any criminal elements were involved.

“It is outrageous that [the Air Guilin captain] neglected his safety duty and allowed unqualified and unrelated people to enter the cockpit and even take photos,” said the official.

Netizens posted questions below the woman’s Weibo post, saying that if any amateur who could not even drive a car could also fly a plane as long as she was in a relationship with the pilot, suggesting the woman should be detained or fined. Some also called for a boycott of Air Guilin and the entire HNA group.

But the woman reportedly told friends she only wanted to take a few selfies in the captain’s seat and did not touch any buttons or consoles and she was assured by her boyfriend that the plane could fly on its own. The plane was on auto-pilot.

Air Guilin is a subsidiary of Chinese aviation giant HNA. Photo: WeChat

Air Guilin confirmed the safety breach occurred in early January this year on Flight GT1011 from Guilin in Guangxi to Yangzhou in eastern Jiangsu province.

The carrier said it had grounded the pilot “for life,” while other members of the crew including the first officer and flight purser had also been suspended from their jobs pending further investigation for their apparent inaction to stop the woman from entering the cockpit while the plane, an Airbus A320, was airborne and carrying more than 100 passengers.

“Air Guilin has a zero-tolerance policy toward any unprofessional and improper acts that could compromise air safety,” said a statement from the company.

The carrier also promised an immediate review of safety rules to introduce remedial measures including a reporting mechanism of any safety irregularities, adding that it had suggested the aviation watchdog revoke the license of the captain and ban other crew members from flying for a year to set an example.

In a deadly incident in 1994, a plane belonging to the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot on its way from Moscow to Hong Kong hit a mountain range in Russia after a copilot brought his 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-son into the cockpit.

Analysts believe the children’s interference with the flight control system led to the deaths of 75 passengers and crew.

Chinese papers quoted aviation safety experts as saying that strict stipulations had long been in place on who was allowed into the cockpit, especially during a flight, and that even inspectors and machinists would need special permits to enter.

China has stringent rules banning unrelated people from entering the cockpit, even when a plane is parked on the tarmac, but the incident exposed the slack implementation of these rules.