China urged to respect rules after denying entry of Taiwan plane

10/16/2020 01:15 PM
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Illustrative photo of a UNI Air ATR2-600 aircraft / Image provided by a member of the public
Illustrative photo of a UNI Air ATR2-600 aircraft / Image provided by a member of the public

Update: Taiwan releases records to rebut HK's claim it abandoned its flight plan

Taipei, Oct. 16 (CNA) Taiwan's defense minister called on Beijing on Friday to respect international aviation rules and refrain from undermining the international aviation order after an incident close to the Hong Kong Flight Information Region (FIR) a day earlier.

A military-chartered supply flight operated by UNI Air to the Taipei-controlled Dongsha Islands (Pratas Islands) in the South China Sea was forced to return halfway on its way to the disputed island group where 250 Taiwanese Coast Guard officers are deployed.

The UNI Air ATR2-600 aircraft, which was carrying supplies to the outpost, was denied by Hong Kong air traffic controllers from entering the Hong Kong FIR Thursday morning because of "dangerous activities" in the area, according to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

Asked about the incident, Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said his ministry checked and did not find any Chinese military exercises being conducted in the region in the air or at sea at the time.

There was "nothing abnormal" there, Yen said, noting that China's Maritime Safety Administration had not issued an aviation ban, meaning that normal passage was allowed in the region for any flight meeting international aviation rules.

"We hope the Chinese authorities will respect the rules set by international aviation organizations, take international aviation safety seriously, and refrain from destroying the international aviation order," Yen urged.

The supply plane took off from Kaohsiung International Airport at 9:05 a.m. Thursday, turned to head back at 9:44 a.m., and returned to the airport at 10:22 a.m.

According to the CAA, roughly 50-60 nautical miles before entering the Hong Kong FIR, Hong Kong air traffic controllers told the pilot that the aircraft was not allowed to enter the FIR, saying it was headed to an area where "dangerous activities" were being conducted.

The pilot tried to ask when the "dangerous activities" would end, but he received no response from the Hong Kong air traffic controllers and eventually decided to return to Kaohsiung, the CAA said.

The Dongsha Islands, administered by Taiwan but also claimed by China, are located about 310 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong and are within its FIR.

It has been standard practice for Taiwanese air traffic controllers to inform their Hong Kong counterparts whenever a plane in the Taipei FIR is about to enter the Hong Kong FIR and is about 20-30 nautical miles away.

The CAA said Hong Kong air traffic controllers should issue an advance "Notice to Airmen" if there are hazards along the route, but no such notice was given Thursday.

On Friday, Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department told CNA that it received a CAA notice of the UNI Air flight's planned entry into the Hong Kong FIR and reminded Taiwan's air traffic controllers that the aircraft must stay above the minimum safe altitude.

Then Taiwan's air traffic control center told it to cancel the request for the UNI Air flight to enter the FIR, the Hong Kong department said, adding that it followed existing protocols in handling the situation.

(By Fang Cheng-hsiang, Stanley Cheung, Joseph Yeh and Elizabeth Hsu)

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