The CAAC last month declared it would punish airlines whose flights were delayed when others from the same airport operated on time. It has made such threats before, but in a new policy it has named eight major airports as being immune from flow-control directives by other airports. According to the new rule, if an aircraft is ready to go from one of the big airports, the destination must accept it, weather and air force exercises permitting. Officials say the idea is to prevent the smaller airports from favoring “certain” carriers, probably meaning those that are locally based, and above all to ensure that passengers are not trapped in aircraft that cannot take off.
The destination airport can still keep the aircraft waiting in the air when it arrives, however. The CAAC seems to calculate that passengers will be more patient circling near their destination than sitting in a stationary aircraft. Accordingly, airlines are loading more fuel, say local media. Yet even if destination airports allow prompt landings, the effect of the rule will surely be only to give priority to flights from the big airports, delaying other flights instead; it does not create capacity.
The abysmal schedule performance by Chinese civil aviation is most commonly blamed on conservative aircraft separation rules combined with inadequate airspace allocation by the air force, which ultimately controls China's skies. But all airspace is in fact available for military and civil use, says the China News Service, again evidently reporting what the air force wants said. The space that is more or less permanently allocated to civil use is 34% of the country's total, it says, while the air force gets just 25% and there is little flying in the rest.
Much of the unused airspace is probably in China's vast and sparsely populated western zone. The calculation of the share enjoyed by civil aviation may be affected by new allocations of low-altitude space to general aviation.
The air transportation system is under great pressure from traffic growth, China News Service points out, with aircraft movements rising 29% at Beijing Capital over the past five years, 36% at Shanghai Pudong and 33% at Guangzhou Baiyun.