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9 Jul, 2007

China Gives More Flight-Path Approvals to Facilitate Polar Route

CHINA has agreed to a number of significant improvements in the flight paths over its air-space in order to facilitate the growing traffic over the polar routes between Asia and North America.

The upgrades were conveyed to the aviation community at the fifth Special Air Traffic Systems Co-ordination Meeting between China, Mongolia, Russia and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) held at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regional office here late last month.

Presently, there are seven entry/exit points on polar routes in China, comprising of four points between China and Russia and three between China and Mongolia.

Mr. Wang Wei, Director of Airspace Management Division, Air Traffic Management Bureau of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China said about 23 daily scheduled flights are using these routes to North America, of which five are from Bangkok and Singapore and the rest from Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and various other points in China.

Traffic on the polar routes is growing steadily as flights have expanded from the original New York and Chicago to Beijing and Hong Kong flights to now include many city pairs from North America to East Asia, South Asia and South East Asia areas.

“The polar routes are gradually becoming the priority choice for airlines operating between North America and Asia, and have become the main air passageway connecting North America and Eurasia,” Mr Wang said.

He said that as of July 5, 2007, China is to add two more entry/exit points for these polar routes, giving airlines more flexible choice of which route to pick for the flight path. This applies to the normal scheduled flights, as well as additional special flights and non-scheduled flights.

However, China has also imposed strict conditions for operating them. Airlines are to be advised that all flight plan (FPL) messages will have to clearly state one main entry/exit point and no more than two alternative entry/exit points in their initial flight plan applications.

The message will have to be submitted not less than one hour before the estimated time of departure to the relevant Chinese aviation authorities and air traffic control centers. In order to clearly differentiate the FPL messages for polar routes from the many other routes to and through China, they will have to carry the field-code text “Polar Operation”.

Mr Wang said this was because “China has unfortunately observed that in practice, many FPLs for polar routes operations have not been sent in accordance with the provisional management rules. This has made it difficult for control units along the polar routes to master flight plans and monitor traffic movements in time, and caused extra workload of the controllers.”

Mr Wang noted that the new improvements will involve many more routes and control areas within China. For many, it will be the first time to handle polar routes operations with flexible choice of entry/exit points.

“To avoid the confusion of flight plan corresponding to actual flight which may cause unnecessary return and/or alternate landing, aircraft operators or local air traffic control services are requested to transmit FPL in strict according to the requirements of the Management Rules of Polar Routes Operations,” he told the meeting, requesting IATA to inform all its airlines and to stress the importance of normative FPL filing to normal polar operations.

While welcoming the improvements as the first major step forward since 2003, IATA sought to query the requirement to include the text “Polar Operations” on the grounds that it was “an additional complexity for airlines and added to the amount of information in relation to other matters that was already required.”

The Chinese turned this down but said they would reconsider after reviewing the performance of the FPL addressing over the next 6 months. If FPLs are consistently received as required by the new management rules, China would consider deleting it. However, China did agree to shorten the field-code from “Polar Operations” to simply “Polar”.

These upgrades are being made as part of a wider aviation infrastructure plan to meet increased traffic demand in the buildup to the landmark 2008 Beijing Olympics. China is also working on implementing Reduced Vertical Separation Minima throughout its airspace this November, which will nearly double the capacity of commercial flight movements.

The improvements in China will up the pressure in neighbouring Mongolia which reported that air traffic is growing at 15% per year and will remain so for the next several years, leading to a doubling of traffic every six years. This will cause more delays in congested regions, representing a significant cost for airlines.

As a result, Mongolia is also undertaking a number of projects to enhance safety, increase airspace capacity and harmonise the air traffic management system with China and Russia through a commonality of equipment and procedures. It says it needs a lot of help with purchasing of equipment and training of ATC personnel.

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