China halved the required vertical separation between aircraft to 1,000 feet from today in a move to ease congestion in air corridors caused by heavy aviation traffic in the country.
Cathay Pacific Airways said the new measure would help improve the on-time performance of airlines flying into the mainland.
'It is good news for us,' said Cathay chief executive Tony Tyler at an industry forum yesterday.
'It is a change aligned with international standards to double the capacity of mainland [air space].'
Congestion in the mainland's airspace has caused severe flight delays in busy airports such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Of the international flights in the country, including those to and from Hong Kong and Macau, 81.79 per cent were on time in September, down 1.53 percentage points from the same period last year, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China said in a report.
Overall on-time performance at all mainland airports was 82.54 per cent in September, down 0.39 percentage point.
Air traffic control contributed 28 per cent of the delays, the biggest single cause of late flights in China, the report said.
The regulator began implementing the reduced vertical separation minimum scheme today. Under the new scheme, aircraft are allowed to fly within 1,000 vertical feet of each other - compared with 2,000 feet previously - when they are at an altitude of between 27,500 feet and 41,000 feet.
Assuming that the maximum number of aircraft are flying between those altitudes, the number of flight levels would increase to 13 from six, resulting in an 85 per cent rise in capacity under the new measure, according to the website of the aviation authority.
Aside from easing the pressure on air traffic controllers, the new policy will help airlines save on fuel costs.
'Pilots can choose the best flying level to lower their fuel costs,' said the regulator, which estimated the annual savings in fuel expenses at 400 million yuan.
In 1988, the International Civil Aviation Organisation completed its study on the separation minimum, concluding that safe implementation of the 1,000-foot separation standard was technically feasible.