Heavy fog grounds flights

Updated: 2013-01-07 07:41

By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu Zhao Lei in Beijing and Guo Anfei in Kunming (China Daily)

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 Heavy fog grounds flights

Passengers wait for their flights at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in Sichuan province on Sunday. At least 15,000 passengers were stranded at the airport as heavy fog disrupted flights. Tan Xi / for China Daily

Airport disorder raises concerns about Spring Festival travel peak

Heavy fog grounded more than 210 flights and stranded at least 15,000 passengers at an airport in Southwest China on Sunday.

The disruption follows widespread public criticism of the chaos at another southwestern airport following days of fog.

Heavy fog lowered visibility at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in the provincial capital of Sichuan to no more than 50 meters from about 4 am, forcing the airport to close for more than seven hours until 11:15 am, airport authorities said.

More than 180 departing or arriving flights at the airport were delayed and 35 others cancelled, the airport said, and 12 flights were ordered to land at airports in Kunming, capital of the neighboring Yunnan province and in Chongqing. A total of 630 flights were scheduled to arrive at or depart from the airport on Sunday.

The fog began to disperse at 11 am. The airport resumed normal operation around 7 pm.

More than 15,000 passengers were affected by the bad weather.

"I went to a hotel near the airport on Saturday after hearing the news about the fog from weather forecasts, and I walked to the airport at 6 am this morning," Liu Yun, a businesswoman from Kunming, told China Daily. "However the fog had closed the airport when I arrived, so I had to wait for five hours.

"Nevertheless, I am lucky that my flight will be the first to take off following the airport's suspension this morning."

The CA4415, an Air China flight from Chengdu to Kunming, took off at 11:15 am.

Liu said the flight would take nearly 90 minutes to reach Kunming and she would be able to make an important meeting.

The heavy fog will last for a long time, significantly disrupting flight schedules and forcing airlines and airport authorities to rearrange landing and takeoff plans, according to Liu Bin, head of the publicity department of the Shuangliu airport.

The last delayed flights will take off early Monday morning, he said, adding each flight was delayed of at least four hours on Sunday.

"The airport has been cooperating with airlines to mobilize more large aircraft to transport passengers and will operate all night to make sure the disruption will not affect flights on Monday," Liu said.

In response to the fog, the airport activated the emergency plan and will better communicate with stranded passengers.

Airport workers were dispatched to distribute food and drinking water to passengers and help them change flights or refund tickets, he said.

Sunday's fog was the heaviest this winter and was caused by the combination of strong sunlight and high humidity after rain on Saturday, the local meteorological authority said.

This is the second time in a week that heavy fog disrupted airport operation and caused disorder.

Heavy fog caused a major backlog of flights at the Kunming Changshui International Airport, stranding at least 10,000 travelers on Thursday.

The airport became disorderly when some stranded passengers grew angry with the delays and poor service.

Tension among upset passengers, airport authorities and airlines was alleviated on Friday when flights resumed.

On Saturday, nearly 10,000 passengers departed from the airport.

The last group of fewer than 100 passengers who were affected by the massive delays flew to their destination on Sunday night, said Guo Peisong, a publicity officer at the airport.

"There are many defects in our management and facilities," he said. "The training for our staff is inadequate. We don't have enough hotels and restaurants near the airport. And I have to say our response to and handling of the situation is not so good," Guo said.

Guo said he shares the public's concerns about the airport's ability to cope with the coming Spring Festival, the traditional peak travel time in China.

"We will improve our communication with airlines and improve the early-warning mechanism. We are also attracting investment to build hotels and food services to facilitate passengers."

The airport is considering drafting an emergency response brochure for workers, he added.

Sun Wenjie, a lawyer at Yunnan Lingyun Law Firm, said the chaos at Kunming airport was also a consequence of the problematic communication and cooperation between the airport and local government.

He suggested the airport cooperate with local authorities to establish an integrated mechanism to coordinate emergency response work.

Contact the writers at huangzhiling@chinadaily.com.cn, zhaolei@chinadaily.com.cn and guoanfei@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/07/2013 page3)