Defence Ministry says bad weather behind flight disruptions

Defence Ministry says bad weather behind flight disruptions at airports; 130 flights cancelled in Shanghai while Xiamen sees capacity fall 77pc

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 8:44am

The mainland's Defence Ministry has broken its silence about widespread flight delays, saying bad weather and not military drills were to blame.

Exercises had been scheduled in southeast coastal areas but they would begin tomorrow, the ministry said in a statement yesterday. Weather had played a significant role in the disruptions, it said.

The mainland's civilian air traffic authority last week said delays at key airports in the east of the country were the result of "stormy weather and regular military drills".

The delays were expected to last until August 15, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said.

By 6pm yesterday, Shanghai's two airports had cancelled 130 flights while another 519 flights were delayed, it said. Beijing's international airport saw at least 55 flights cancelled and 126 flights delayed. Guangzhou and Shenzhen were also affected.

The airport at Xiamen city in Fujian province was hardest hit, with the administration issuing its highest red alert for delays in the morning. Capacity was down by 77 per cent due to "busy airspace".

The aviation regulator issued a yellow alert warning of moderate delays today for Shanghai and Hangzhou due to weather.

According to analysts' estimates the military's grip on airspace leaves as little as 20 per cent for civilian traffic.

The ministry promised to minimise the drills' impact on civil aviation by opening up temporary routes, giving over some of its airspace to passenger flights, and arranging detours in advance.

But the assurances might not be enough to appease travellers, who were again left waiting at airports with no idea of when their flights would leave. At Shenzhen's international airport passengers and ground staff came to blows, mainland media reported. A video clip taken by witnesses and aired by Shenzhen Television showed a number of frustrated passengers and more than a dozen male staff members throwing punches.

A woman passenger said the confrontation came after passengers waiting to board a flight to Hangzhou were forced to wait three hours. She was among 30 passengers who refused to board the plane for departure, instead asking for compensation and a public apology from the airport.

A staff member said the airport kept "communicating" with the passengers waiting at the gate, but declined to comment on the confrontation.

The Defence Ministry's explanation was met with scepticism by microbloggers. "I didn't know that typhoons could hit the stratosphere," one from Guangdong said on Weibo.

"What a coincidence that it is always good weather until you schedule military drills," said another from Jilin .