Mr. Shangkong

CAAC making name over flight delays

Frustrated travellers call the mainland aviation regulator Chinese Airlines Always Cancel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 4:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 7:39am

Did you know the mainland's aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), has a nickname given by frustrated travellers? To them, CAAC stands for "Chinese Airlines Always Cancel". How ironic.

The massive flight delays across major airports, caused mainly by mysterious People's Liberation Army's military exercises, have become international news headlines.

Delays are understandable if caused by bad weather or technical problems, but more travellers are getting fed up with the PLA's self-important attitude towards how it wants to control the skies with little public explanation.

To be fair, local governments such as Shanghai and Beijing, as well as major carriers including Air China and China Eastern Airlines, are also victims in the drama, which comes at a time when the leadership under President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang is keen to boost foreign investment in the world's No 2 economy.

It is about time top bosses including Xi ... come up with a solution to these flight delays

The leaders also want more multinationals to move their regional headquarters to cities such as Shanghai, where the mainland's first free-trade zone was launched 10 months ago.

"We're trying to get more foreign companies to come to Pudong to set up their headquarters, but these days when we meet those foreign company representatives, they jokingly ask: 'Can you get us to Shanghai without such frequent flight delays?'" said a Shanghai city government official. "This kind of question makes us feel very awkward."

The reason why the government official feels awkward is because there is not much the local government can do to help solve the problem. It is really up to the military.

The PLA has effectively controlled mainland airspace since 1949, allocating as little as 20 per cent of it to civil aviation. That compares with nearly 90 per cent in the United States, where the air force controls only narrow corridors or airspace remote from airport hubs.

Last week alone, travellers in the mainland's eastern provinces were affected by massive flight delays, with airport capacity cut by up to two-thirds because of military exercises.

In the case of Shanghai, the local government is understood to have lobbied the PLA to improve flight delays, which have clearly hurt the international image of the city.

As the PLA ultimately takes orders from the Central Military Commission rather than local governments, the lobbying has had little effect so far.

For the sake of foreign investment - a key factor in keeping the economy growing - it is about time top bosses including Xi, who heads the commission, come up with a solution to these flight delays.


George Chen is the financial editor and a columnist at the Post. Mr Shangkong appears every Monday in print and online. Follow @george_chen on Twitter or visit