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Why did Air New Zealand turn back halfway to China?

February 12, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

When an Air New Zealand flight bound for Shanghai turned back mid-flight on Saturday after nearly five hours in the air, it was not because of any mechanical issue. Neither was it because anyone was sick on board.

It was an “administrative error”. Some strange bureaucratic mix-up meant that flight NZ 289  didn’t have permission to land in China.

Obviously, the turn-back did not make passengers happy. The flight had been airborne for over four and a half hours when the captain said it would be heading back to Auckland.

New York University academic Eric Hundman, who was travelling business class on the flight, tweeted: “I’ve just experienced a new level of China Bad: midway through our flight from Auckland to Shanghai, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around. A permitting issue, supposedly.”

After the turnback, however, Hundman had second thoughts, deleting his tweet and retweeting on Sunday:

I’ve taken my earlier tweet about my flight to Shanghai down because it was being read in a way I did not at all intend. About to take off again, but will dig into this a bit more after I land!

News media in New Zealand did some digging in the meantime. quoted one aviation authority who pointed out the aircraft involved, a new B787-9 Dreamliner, was on long-term lease to Air New Zealand and it was the first time it had been deployed on the Auckland-Shanghai route.

Perhaps the aircraft registration filed with the Chinese authorities did not tally with the registration of the aircraft that was used on the flight? Countries need to know exactly who is in their airspace.

Above: Air New Zealand B787-9 Dreamliner


Some people read deeper meaning into it, with New Zealand political journalist Richard Harman speculating on his website Politik that the Chinese action could be linked to New Zealand’s decision to ban Chinese telco Huawei from supplying 5G to New Zealand telco Spark. (Australia is going through similar processes concerning Huawei.)

Air New Zealand arranged overnight hotel accommodation and meals in Auckland for its inconvenienced passengers. It offered them a “gesture of goodwill” in the form of a NZD 200 voucher. Another Air New Zealand flight took off on Sunday and delivered the passengers successfully to Shanghai.

Written by Peter Needham

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