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Taiwan protests China's expanded use of controversial flight paths

04/19/2024 08:19 PM
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Air traffic controllers manage flights in the Taipei Flight Information Region in Taiwan. CNA file photo
Air traffic controllers manage flights in the Taipei Flight Information Region in Taiwan. CNA file photo

Taipei, April 19 (CNA) Taiwan's Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) on Friday reiterated its objection to the decision by the Chinese authorities to expand the use of controversial flight paths close to the airspace of Taiwan-controlled islands off the coast of China which went into effect that day.

The CAA said in a statement that the unilateral decision to permit eastbound flights on the W122 path, which is 2.8 nautical miles south of the airspace around the Matsu Islands, and on the W123 path, just 1.1 nautical miles from Kinmen County airspace, could have serious impacts on air travel safety.

It called for negotiations between both sides of the strait regarding the use of the flight paths.

Flying at close distances could increase the challenges faced by air traffic control and up the risk if bad weather were to hit or if airplanes were to experience technical problems, the CAA said.

There are dozens of domestic flights operated daily between Taiwan proper and airports in Kinmen and Matsu, both located off the coast of the Chinese province of Fujian.

China had been urged to come to the table by the CAA after its announcement that from Feb. 1 it would move the north-south M503 flight path back to its original route, meaning it would come as close as 4.2 nautical miles to the Taiwan Strait median line.

Following negotiations between both sides of the strait in 2015, China had agreed to "offset" it an additional 6 miles to the west.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) said in a statement released Friday that the changes to the flight paths were made to accommodate the growing number of flights, reduce delays and improve the efficiency of flight operations.

Zhu noted that M503, along with W122 and W123, are within the purview of the Shanghai Flight Information Region.

However, the fact that M503 is very close to the median line of the Taiwan Strait has led to security concerns in Taiwan.

The median line is also the border between the Taipei Flight Information Region and Shanghai Flight Information Region.

Chinese aviation authorities also announced Friday that more measures will be introduced from May 16 to improve flight operations at Fuzhou Changle International Airport, which is close to the Matsu Islands. No further details were given.

In addition to the call for China to engage in bilateral talks regarding the flight paths, the CAA also called for the establishment of procedures to facilitate communication between Taiwanese and Chinese air traffic control, to ensure airspace safety.

The CAA has also instructed its local air traffic control to help maintain the safety of domestic flights across the Taiwan Strait by urging its Chinese counterpart to guide any aircraft that stray off set paths towards Taiwanese airspace away, it added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of National Defense in Taipei echoed CAA concerns regarding flight safety because W122 is so close to Matsu Islands and W123 is so close to the Kinmen.

Taiwan's armed forces continue to closely monitor real-time activities in the airspace around the Taiwan Strait, and will respond to unexpected situations appropriately, it added.

(By Yu Hsiao-han, Wu Shu-wei, Lu Chia-jung and Kay Liu)

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