Beijing tests flights on disputed M503 air route over Taiwan Strait

Taiwanese authorities were kept in the loop on the mainland's operation along the controversial M503 route that edges close to island's airspace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 March, 2015, 1:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 March, 2015, 8:51pm

Beijing tested flights on a controversial air route on Sunday to pave the way for the official launch of the path that is close to Taiwanese airspace.

The 11am flight tests on the M503 air route - over the central line of the Taiwan Strait - were closely monitored by the Taiwanese authorities, which were informed of them beforehand to avoid a dispute between the mainland and the island, officials said.

"[The mainland] notified us in advance of their plan to test the operation within the M503 air route," Taiwan's cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyun said.

Beijing had agreed to move the route 8 nautical miles westwards after three rounds of talks with the Taiwanese transport ministry, Sun said. The original route was less than 8km from Taiwan's airspace.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said that based on previous discussions, the factors tested included flight safety within the path, radar response, automatic communications systems and other technical issues.

"All the issues that needed to be tested were confirmed by our two sides, and we were informed of the flight numbers, planes and other details involved in the test," a council official said.

She added that Beijing would inform Taiwan of the test results shortly, including safety issues and other technical data. The two sides would hold further talks before the new air route was launched, she said.

The mainland's Civil Aviation Administration said that after the M503 path was launched, it would initially dispatch no more than 30 round-trip flights per day. Beijing had initially planned to launch the route on March 5, saying it badly needed to expand its flight route to ease serious air traffic congestion over the Yangtze River and Pearl River delta areas.

But the plan, announced in January, was met with strong protest from Taiwan, which said the path was too close to its air space and hence threatened its flight safety and security.

The two sides have held three rounds of talks since, and Beijing agreed this month to postpone the launch of the route until both sides reached an agreement.

Taiwan's pro-independence camp yesterday lambasted President Ma Ying-jeou's government for bowing to pressure from the mainland by allowing Beijing to conduct the tests. This would only result in the path being officially launched, hence sabotaging Taiwan's security, they said.