Taiwan supply plane completes trip to Pratas following row with Hong Kong

10/26/2020 11:57 AM
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CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020
CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020

Taipei, Oct. 26 (CNA) A civilian aircraft from Taiwan chartered by the military successfully completed a flight to the Dongsha Islands in the South China Sea Monday, 11 days after a previously scheduled trip was cut short by Hong Kong air traffic controllers for no apparent reason.

The UNI Air ATR72-600 aircraft, which transported coast guard officers, marine national park personnel and supplies to the islands, departed from Kaohsiung International Airport at 8:35 a.m., Lai Yu-chieh (賴育杰), an official from the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), told CNA.

The plane touched down on the Dongsha Islands, also known as the Pratas Islands, at 9:44 a.m., and returned to Kaohsiung at 11:39 a.m., according to the CGA.

Lai declined to say how many officers were on board the aircraft or whether the CGA had communicated with Hong Kong in advance of the flight.

The plane taking off from Kaohsiung. CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020
The plane taking off from Kaohsiung. CNA photo Oct. 26, 2020

On Oct. 15, the same aircraft was told by Hong Kong air traffic controllers not to enter the airspace over Dongsha Islands because "dangerous activities" were in progress in the area.

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

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

It has been a long-standing 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.

If there are hazards along the route, Hong Kong air traffic controllers should issue an advance "Notice to Airmen", but no such notice was given that day, according to Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

After the incident, Defense Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said the ministry did not identify any Chinese military exercises being conducted in the region, in the air or at sea, at the time.

Routine flights that transport officers to and from the Dongsha Islands are conduced every Thursday from the southern city of Kaohsiung and usually take around 70 minutes.

They are contracted by the military to UNI Air, a regional subsidiary of EVA Airways.

A routine flight on Oct. 22 was canceled due to poor weather conditions and postponed to Monday, according to the CGA.

(By Hung Hsueh-kuang and Chiang Yi-ching)

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