Flight delay fiasco

By Ma Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/17 18:33:40

Joint Sino-US project set to improve China’s air traffic control

Passengers wait at the Beijing Capital International Airport as their flights get delayed or canceled due to heavy rainfall in Beijing on July 6. Photo: IC

Extreme weather unavoidably affects the punctuality of flights, but improvements in early warnings and control mechanisms can be achieved to reduce the impact of environmental influences on aviation efficiency, experts have advised.

The comments come after a recent influx of passenger complaints about frequent flight cancellations and delays, problems Chinese airports encounter every summer.

A 30-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing surnamed Yang told the Global Times on Wednesday that he experienced "severe" flight cancellations and delays last weekend.

"My flight was scheduled to fly from Guangzhou [capital of South China's Guangdong Province] to Beijing at noon on Saturday, but I was informed three hours ahead of takeoff that it was canceled. The same thing happened after I changed to another flight the same day," he said.

"Then I booked another ticket for Sunday from Guangzhou to Beijing, which fortunately took off on time. But it was during the flight when the captain announced that the plane would make an emergency landing in Ji'nan [capital of East China's Shandong Province] because of showers in Beijing," he said, noting that passengers waited for four hours on the plane in Ji'nan before it finally took off again to Beijing.

The latest official data showed on Tuesday that 49.24 percent of flights across China were delayed or canceled in July, mainly due to extreme weather conditions and unprepared air traffic control.

Domestic airports handled an average of 14,464 flights a day in July, with the flight punctuality rate standing at 50.76 percent, Zhang Chunzhi, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC)'s operation and monitoring center, informed a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

Impacts of bad weather

Zhang said that extreme weather conditions accounted for 58.6 percent of the delays in July.

This summer, China's northern, southern and southwestern regions experienced more storms than usual, with airports in cities including Guangzhou, Shenzhen in Guangdong and Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province all experiencing serious thunderstorms, Zhang said.

Besides erratic weather, air traffic control issues represented 25.99 percent of the delays, Zhang noted.

In China, flight numbers increase every year, but the amount of routes isn't growing accordingly.

Stronger air traffic control has therefore been implemented, especially as a precaution for bad weather and other emergencies, so this along with the increase has resulted in flight delays on a large scale, domestic news site caijing.com.cn reported in July.

Future improvements needed

Although flight delays are inevitable when there is bad weather, improvements such as better coordination mechanisms among airports, airlines and authorities can be made to mitigate risks, said Gao Yuanyang, director of the General Aviation Industry Research Center at Beihang University.

In particular, relevant departments can gather predictions on upcoming weather conditions from scientists and then airports, airlines and authorities can accordingly and effectively coordinate flights and routes to avoid cancellations and delays as much as possible, he said.

Indeed, meteorological forecasting plays a significant role in improving the operational efficiency of civil aviation, but China still faces challenges due to factors such as shortages of meteorological sound facilities and key weather forecast technologies as well as a lack of qualified talent, Li Qiguo, deputy director of the Air Traffic Management Bureau of the CAAC, said on August 7, according to a report on domestic industry website carnoc.com.

Though East China is one of the busiest regions for flights, the CAAC East China Regional Administration has no reliable, quantitative index system to assess airspace capacity and air traffic flow under various weather conditions, according to a report on carnoc.co, citing Sun Tao, a chief engineer at the CAAC East China Regional Administration.

But this problem is expected to be solved with the pilot program for the quantification of the impact of weather on airspace capacity, which will be launched under the cooperation of China and the US.

The program will be carried out at the CAAC East China Regional Administration where staff will utilize the US' experience of enhancing air traffic management by quantifying airspace capacity with decision support tools.

The civil aviation administration of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region announced Tuesday that it will use automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) technology to monitor an aircraft's position through satellite navigation, domestic news site chinanews.com reported.

ABD-S, a new piece of monitoring technology that the CAAC has been distributing to certain airports in recent years, is expected to continue improving flight punctuality. The new technology reportedly will be used across the entire country by July 2019. The establishment of 308 ADS-B ground stations will be completed this year and all data centers will be set up by 2018.

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