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Asia travel

China looks to make skies friendlier for civilian flights

Proposal to reform management of nation’s airspace comes amid chronic delays, particularly at airports in Beijing and the Pearl River Delta

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 May, 2017, 8:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 10:03am

China plans to open more airspace for civilian flights in a bid to ease the nation’s notorious flight delays.

While the civil aviation industry is growing rapidly, 80 per cent of mainland China’s skies are controlled by the military, which gives priority to its own traffic. Nine out of 10 of the world’s worst large airports in terms of punctuality in April were Chinese, according to global flight data service FlightStats.

The mainland government has realised the problem and a new “airspace management system” will be released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in the next week or so, according to Cai Jun, deputy director of the bureau’s Air Traffic Control Commission.

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The plan would “integrate management of civil and military aviation” and broaden flight corridors in key traffic hubs, including Beijing, the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta, Cai told a forum in Beijing on Thursday. “We understand that reforming the management of the airspace ... is an essential need,” said Cai, whose commission is overseen by the State Council and the Central Military Commission.

The plan allows for the military to relax air space restrictions for commercial and civil aviation, according to industry experts. But they also cautioned it would take time to solve the air traffic problem.

Massive flight delays have been a severe and frequent headache for operators of most airports on the mainland.

About a quarter of flights on the mainland were delayed last year, with air traffic control and weather among the greatest causes, according to a report released by the aviation administration. And more airports are expected – the central government plans to complete construction of 30 new facilities and add another 44 to take the total to about 260 by 2020.

Law Cheung-kwok, from the Aviation Policy and Research Centre at Chinese University, said the aviation industry was looking forward to reforms that allowed for a more flexible use of airspace.

“Relaxation of airspace restrictions has not kept up with air transport growth in China and it is still military-oriented. It needs significant reform,” he said.

The number of passengers on domestic flights rose 15 per cent last year, while the number of air travellers on international flights arriving or departing the mainland increased by 26 per cent, according to the civil aviation administration.

The number of people flying to, from and within China will almost double to 927 million annually by 2025, from 487 million in 2015. By comparison, passenger numbers in the US will increase to 904 million by 2025 from 657 million in 2015, according to forecasts.