Air China

Airlines share blame for delayed flights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Mainland airlines can no longer blame air traffic control for flight delays , as more than a third of the incidents are of their own making, according to data compiled by the industry watchdog.

In a rare review of the reasons behind flight delays, a constant pain for mainland travellers, the Civil Aviation Administration of China found 37.1 per cent of the 538,000 delays last year were caused by the airlines themselves.

Air traffic control, which is commonly blamed for the delays, accounted for only 27.5 per cent. Bad weather contributed to 20 per cent, while other reasons accounted for 15.4 per cent.

Airline problems range from technical issues to disruption in aircraft deployment from one airport to another and the availability of cabin crew.

Severe flight delays often lead to disputes between ground staff and grumpy passengers, sometimes turning violent and ending in fisticuffs. Angered by the recurrent delays, CAAC in 2010 ordered airlines to improve their performance and threatened to cancel flights if they delayed by more than four hours.

The latest CAAC report does not, however, lay down the parameters it used to define a flight delay. Generally, if an airplane is late by more than 30 minutes, it is considered a delay.

But delays on the mainland are mostly longer than 30 minutes. A former official of Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, near Shanghai, said about half the flights in 2010 were late for more than an hour because of increases in air traffic volume as a result of the Shanghai Expo and mismanagement by air traffic controllers. The situation in Shanghai should be similar to Hangzhou, the official added.

CAAC did not provide figures for individual airports but said airlines' punctuality on average rose to 77.2 per cent last year from 75.43 per cent in 2010, mainly because of a slowdown in air traffic growth.

Passenger and cargo traffic growth slowed to 7.2 per cent last year from 26.1 per cent in 2010. The airlines still performed much worse than in 2007, when 83.06 per cent of the flights kept to schedule even as air traffic expanded 19.5 per cent year on year.

CAAC's latest figures hardly reflect the hazards faced by travellers. The authority uses the time when the gate closes for a flight as the cut-off to measure delays. In reality, there is often a huge lag between the closing of the gate and take-off.

Under the traffic control system on the mainland, an airplane is only assigned a time slot for taking off and queueing up for departure after the door closes. That explains why pilots want passengers to be seated and the door closed as soon as possible even though the pilot often has no idea when the plane will eventually be cued for departure.

Lack of air space is one of the major reasons for flight delays because 70 per cent of the air space is controlled by the military and prioritised for military exercises. Commercial planes need to make way for military aircraft whenever there is an exercise.


The number of passengers passing through Beijing Capital Airport, making it the world's second busiest airport last year