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THE DELAYS OF 30 TO 60 MINUTES OR MORE persist in China
for reasons that airports can ease but not solve on their own, aviation
experts believe. On-time performance declined over the past year,
according to the British air travel intelligence company OAG. Only
two of China’s top 10 airports improved in April 2017 compared to
the same month a year ago, it found.
Late takeoffs became an obvious problem in 2009, the state-run
China Daily news website says. About 80 percent were on time then.
That percentage dropped every year from 2010 to 2015, the website
says. OAG says on-time performance weakened at seven of China’s
top 10 airports over the year ending in April.
Chinese airports now process more than 1 billion passengers a
year, following a steady increase fuelled by the growth in people’s
incomes and interest in travel. More than 25,000 flights take off and
land every day at about 200 airports around the country, said S.L .
Wong, the Asia-Pacific head of technical and industry affairs with
the trade association Airports Council International.
The sheer number of people causes some flights to leave late,
aviation analysts say.
“Some airports are already operating close to or even over their
design capacity,” Wong said. “Airports are closely knitted with each
other by an extensive air transport network across the country.
Sometimes even a slight disturbance at one airport, for example
because of bad weather, can have significant repercussions on
punctual flight departures at other airports.”
China’s air force contributes to late commercial flights, academic
researchers Zhang Yu and Zhao Lifei told a conference in 2015.
When military aircraft suddenly need a civilian flight path, the air
force grounds other flights. The air force operates largely in secret,
so passengers seldom find out when military manoeuvres are caus-
ing delays as they sit at a gate or on a plane waiting.
“ The underlying cause (of flight delays) is the airspace, not the
hardware of the airport itself,” said Eric Lin, aviation sector analyst
with UBS in Hong Kong. “ The Chinese market is growing, but air-
space is not growing, so that’s why you have a crowded sky.”
China’s total air transport fleet will triple from 2015 to 2035, and
airports are under pressure to accommodate it. But capacity at
major airports is nearly full now, OAG senior analyst John Grant said.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China in October 2016 stopped
airports in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen from adding flights. They
also blocked two regional airlines from any applications to add
flights, China Aviation Daily reported.
Chinese airports are investing “heavily” in equipment, talent and
technology, Wong said. More efficient baggage handling systems
can help speed transfers of checked-in luggage from plane to plane
at busy hubs, he said. “Adequate and efficient” security checks and
immigration lines help further, he added.
Airport creation and expansion also give more slots to planes,
allowing airlines in turn to chase the growing number of Chinese
passengers. China’s total number of airports is expected to reach
244 by 2020.
On-time performance improved over the April-to-April year at the
airport in Guangzhou, China’s major southern city, from 56.4 percent
to 64.9 percent of flights, even while it handled 6 percent more traffic,
OAG found. In Shenzhen, a manufacturing city and high-tech hub
just north of Hong Kong, on-time performance rose from 47 to 60
percent on 8 percent more traffic.
Over the same year, the rate of late flights stayed the same at
Shanghai’s in-town Hongqiao International Airport, OAG says, but
Shanghai and Beijing were still the most likely places among China’s
top 10 airports to cause passengers a delay.
The airport in the central Chinese city of Xi’an posted the highest
on-time performance among the top 10 at more than 70 percent,
though it too slipped over the year that OAG reviewed.
The crowded skies of China
The frenzied expansion of airports in China has missed one of the country’s stickiest aviation
issues, one that any regular passenger knows: planes keep taking off late, as A AV contributor
Ralph Jennings reports.
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