Friday, 22 February, 2019

Air New Zealand flight's U-turn sparks claims of China tensions

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Ellis Copeland | 12 February, 2019, 13:39

The Air NZ Flight 289 from Auckland to Shanghai, with 270 passengers aboard, turned around about five hours into the journey on Sunday after the airline discovered a "technicality", meaning the particular aircraft in operation, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, did not have regulatory authority to land in China.

"Midway through our flight, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around, " he said.

Sources say that officials in Beijing warned Air New Zealand to remove reference to any paperwork which suggested Taiwan was a state back in 2018, but someone forgot to do so.

"Tourism is very important to New Zealand, but so is trade and our worldwide relationship - I think that it's very concerning that Jacinda Ardern is the first elected Prime Minister not to visit China within the first year in office since before Robert Muldoon, that in itself speaks volumes".

In a statement Air New Zealand said the plane was new to the company's fleet, and did not have the correct paperwork allowing it to land in China.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said the Chinese let the government know a few weeks ago that there was a scheduling issue, and the event would happen eventually.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asserted that an incident involving a Shanghai-bound Air New Zealand flight turning back to Auckland last Saturday was an "administrative issue" and would have no impact on diplomatic ties with China.

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China and New Zealand were quick to downplay the controversy. Calls to the civil aviation administration were not answered.

Air New Zealand did not respond to questions about a Taiwan link but said "as is required, the application includes a list of destinations the airline operates to, including Taipei".

Ardern was scheduled to visit China early this year but the invitation has been put on hold.

"We've got a situation right now where the Prime Minister is seeking meetings in China and she can't get them and there is a relationship problem here, " he continued. Both countries claim sovereignty over the other.

China refuses to have diplomatic ties with governments that recognise Taiwan and has been cracking down on airlines that do so.

Although Air NZ quickly acknowledged an unspecified "administrative issue", the highly unusual decision to return to Auckland when the plane was already well on the way meant questions were inevitably aimed at the Beehive.

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