Chinese cities encroaching on military airspace, PLA complains

Urban expansion has caused accidents and forced airbases to shut down, according to report

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2014, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 6:04pm

Airspace intrusion has caused nearly 100 aviation accidents and the permanent shutdown of more than 10 military airbases on the mainland in the past 20 years, Xinhua quotes the People’s Liberation Army as saying.

Nearly 80 per cent of China’s airspace is reserved for military use, a senior executive of Hainan Airlines told the South China Morning Post last year, whereas in other countries, such as the US, the situation is exactly the opposite. As a result, he said, military dominance of airspace causes civilian air traffic congestion and flight delays.

Authorities with the PLA General Staff Headquarters who specialise in protecting military facilities also said that the space over more than half of the airbases on the mainland is where accidents could occur, such as a plane hitting a high-rise building, although they did not reveal what accidents had occurred. That space must remain clear to reduce the risk of accidents that occur during takeoffs and landings, authorities said.

China’s urban areas are continuing to expand. And although the exact number of airbases is a military secret, with bustling and densely populated new urban areas encroaching on the bases, conflicts are bound to take place, Xinhua reported.

A national survey by the General Staff Headquarters indicated that more than 1,000 civilian buildings near airbases had exceeded height limits.

In the worst case, a building was too tall by more than 300 metres. Some of these buildings stood in takeoff or landing patterns. In some areas the threat of accidents was so great that the airbases had to be abandoned altogether, authorities said.

In addition, some residents living near airbases raised pigeons or flew kites or drones that often interfered with military aircraft, and it took a lot of energy and cost to drive the intruders away, authorities said.

A city management researcher in Beijing told the Post that the military’s complaints were reasonable, and that civilian building developers should stay away from airbases to avoid the flight path of military planes.

“But the cost of limiting the height of buildings around a small airbase can also become worrying,” he said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

But he said he also saw the other side of the argument – that airbases, instead, need to yield to urban sprawl.

“If farmers’ houses can be demolished or relocated to make way for the aggressive city expansion,” he said, “why can’t these noisy military airbases?”