Landing row sparks air safety probe
Chinese civil aviation authorities are investigating claims that a domestic airline refused to make way for a Qatar Airways jet that was low on fuel at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport.
Rumours had circulated online that the pilot of a Juneyao Airlines flight refused to give way even after the pilot of the long-distance flight from Doha issued a Mayday call, two weeks ago.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China's eastern branch announced on its website late yesterday that it was investigating both Juneyao Airlines and Qatar Airways over the August 13 incident.
It said Qatar's QR888 reported low fuel after being held above Shanghai Pudong International Airport due to bad weather, and asked for priority landing at nearby Hongqiao.
'The air traffic control ordered Juneyao's HO1112 to make way [for the Doha flight], but the crew on board did not follow,' the aviation authorities said in a statement, adding that Qatar's jet eventually touched down safely.
According to a post on a forum of Feeyo.com, a civil aviation site, the pilot of the domestic Airbus A320 from Shenzhen declined the controller's order, saying it was also short on fuel. A few minutes later, the Qatar pilot radioed Mayday and requested an immediate landing, but could not because the Juneyao pilot insisted on landing first.
A manager for Qatar Airways in Shanghai told the South China Morning Post that their Boeing 777's landing was delayed further because of the dispute with the Juneyao flight. But he could not confirm whether the Qatar plane had signalled a Mayday.
Juneyao Airlines could not be reached for comment yesterday. The airline told China National Radio yesterday that it was helping authorities in the investigation.
But the company said the rumours online contained errors and misleading information on the remaining fuel levels of the two planes and the Mayday call.
Citing an official of the civil aviation authorities, Shanghai Daily reported yesterday that the investigation was based on flight-recorder data and inquiries with the two carriers and CAAC's Air Traffic Management Bureau. The official reportedly added that, under civil aviation rules, pilots who refused to give way to a plane that had issued a distress call may have their licences suspended or permanently revoked.
Professor Sun Ruishan, director of the Research Institute of Civil Aviation Safety in Tianjin, said yesterday that he had never heard of a pilot ignoring another plane's Mayday call. It could bring severe consequences for the pilot.
But Sun was equally surprised at claims the Qatar pilot had made a Mayday call for a fuel shortage. If it had been carrying the amount of fuel specified by regulations, the plane should have had more than enough fuel to land at Hongqiao.
'International flights should carry much more redundant fuel than domestic flights, but some can find ways to bypass the requirements and take off with less,' he said.