Nation's on-time flight performance drops

Updated: 2012-12-21 00:57

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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On-time flight performance continued to decline in China this year despite the civil aviation authority's efforts to improve it.

According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the overall on-time performance of scheduled flights in the first 11 months of this year was 74.5 percent, down 2 percent compared with the same period last year.

Air traffic control is blamed for a quarter of the flight delays, because runways at hub airports are always crowded with planes lining up for approval from air traffic control to take off.

Li Jiaxiang, head of the administration, said on the sideline of a national civil aviation meeting on Thursday that the worsening performance is mainly due to the limited airspace available to civil aviation.

In China, the military controls the airspace, and civil aviation gets only a fraction of it. In recent years, airlines have added flights to meet growing travel demands, but the airspace allocated to civil aviation has not grown proportionally.

"In busy hours, arriving flights cannot land immediately, while departing flights have to wait a long time to take off," said Ouyang Jie, a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China who specializes in airport studies.

Because of the limited airspace, the airport runway capacity, or the number of flights that a runway is able to handle during rush hour, lags behind that of some other countries, he said.

At Beijing Capital International Airport, for example, the three runways can handle 80 million passengers a year. By way of comparison, one runway alone at London's Gatwick Airport can handle 40 million passengers a year, he said.

Though great efforts have been made by civil aviation, the overall on-time performance failed to improve because the current airspace management system fails to see the need for a structural change in aviation, he said, adding that the military has to make some concessions on the issue.

The country's civil aviation industry continued to see single-digit growth this year. According to the administration, the civil aviation industry transported an estimated 320 million passengers over the year, up 9.2 percent from last year.

As for next year, the administration expects the civil aviation industry to see similar growth of 9.4 percent and transport 350 million passengers.

Though the weak global and domestic economy made double-digit growth evasive in the industry, China's airlines continued to do well.

Airlines are expected to see profits of 20.90 billion yuan ($3.35 billion) this year, said Li Jiaxiang, adding the amount will account for more than half of the estimated profits for the global airlines this year.

The International Air Transport Association recently revised its airline performance forecast for 2012, saying airlines are expected to return a profit of $6.7 billion in 2012.

"Of all the means of transportation, air travel still has the fastest growth in China," he said.

To meet growing demand, China will continue to buy planes and invest in infrastructure construction, he said.

According to the administration, the commercial plane fleet increased by 177 to 1,922 by the end of November. Three new airports were put into use this year, making a total of 138.

The administration said that 12 more new airports will be completed and at least 350 new planes will be brought into the country's commercial transportation fleet next year.