We report the quantum efficiency of photoluminescence processes of Er optical centers as well as the thermal quenching mechanism in GaN epilayers prepared by metal-organic chemical vapor deposition. High resolution infrared spectroscopy and temperature dependence measurements of photoluminescence intensity from Er ions in GaN under resonant excitation excitations were performed. Data provide a picture of the thermal quenching processes and activation energy levels. By comparing the photoluminescence from Er ions in the epilayer with a reference sample of Er-doped SiO 2, we find that the fraction of Er ions that emits photon at 1.54 μm upon a resonant optical excitation is approximately 68%. This result presents a significant step in the realization of GaN:Er epilayers as an optical gain medium at 1.54 μm.