New system must open up more airspace for civilian flights
Anachronistic practice of reserving 80 per cent of the skies for the military frustrates not only passengers but also hampers the civil aviation industry
Enduring patience is often as important as having a ticket for air travel on the mainland. The point of air travel, whether it be in first class or economy, is to reach a destination as quickly as possible. So long delays and cancellations of flights cause understandable frustration. Moreover, the breakneck pace of growth of the country’s aviation industry seems to be outstripping hope of an early solution.
News of a plan to significantly ease the problem around key traffic hubs is therefore likely to be greeted with a mixture of scepticism and relief . That said, however, it will be a long-overdue attempt to deal with the main cause of delays – military control and priority use of 80 per cent of mainland skies, which puts the squeeze on civil traffic.
As a result, according to global flight data service FlightStats, nine out of 10 of the world’s worst large airports for punctuality in April were in China. To put that into perspective in terms of the number of passengers affected and the wasteful inefficiency, the number of people flying to, from and within China is expected to almost double from 487 million a year to 927 million, equal to two-thirds of the current population, in the 10 years to 2025.
Military control of large swathes of air space is not unusual. The issue is the provision of civilian flight corridors big and flexible enough to meet demand. In the United States, for example, civilian aircraft have exclusive use of flight corridors and the military use the rest. A new mainland airspace management system, to be released soon by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), will integrate management of civilian and military aviation and broaden flight corridors in key traffic hubs, according to air traffic control deputy director Cai Jun.
The CAAC says about 25 per cent of flights on the mainland were delayed last year, with “air traffic control” – often meaning military priority – among the main causes. People have adopted the term “new normal” to describe being stranded at an airport. Littler wonder the aviation industry is crying out for reform that allows better use of airspace. As the leader of the initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trade routes with investment in infrastructure, Beijing could set the example by bringing its aviation infrastructure up to world standard.