Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Air New Zealand says sorry for flying passengers halfway to China before heading back to Auckland

The Shanghai-bound flight had to return home after being denied permission to land

The new Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy Chris Sutton
The new Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy Chris Sutton

They say there’s no such thing as a wasted journey, but Air New Zealand might struggle to convince passengers on yesterday's Auckland to Shanghai flight of that. After flying for almost five hours, the plane turned around somewhere over Papua New Guinea and headed back home.

Air NZ informed passengers that the aircraft didn’t have permission to land in China.

Flight 289 departed Auckland at 11.45pm on Saturday as scheduled. After four and a half hours’ flight time, the plane u-turned and landed back in Auckland at about 10am Sunday morning. Passengers who had arrived at the airport the recommended three hours before departure had wasted up to 13 hours travelling nowhere.

The airline has apologised for the incident, which it said was down to the aircraft not having regulatory approval to land in China. Passengers were booked on to another flight to Shanghai that is scheduled to depart at 11pm on Sunday.

Passenger Eric Hundman tweeted about the incident mid-flight, writing: “I’ve just experience a new level of China Bad.”

It seems that the regulatory issue was specific to the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which was making its first flight to China since Air NZ received it.

How can this happen?

According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), all new aircraft must be registered with the authorities before flying in, out or through China. The process takes a minimum of five working days but can take several weeks.

Flight permits are required by all aircraft to overfly, land or make a technical stop in any country’s airspace. All countries have their own regulations. China’s permit process is complex and relatively expensive. In addition to lengthy processing times, final approval is at the discretion of the CAAC and all applications must include validation from a local Chinese sponsor and a compensation fee to the authorities.

Aviation professional and twitter user @apoure25 tweeted that while the incident isn't common, it's not unbelievable.

Flights to nowhere

It’s not the only wasted journey Air NZ has had recently, either. On Friday, passengers travelling to Queensland from Auckland on flight 623 spent five hours in the air only to return back home after strong tailwinds prevented the flight from landing at its destination. Passengers were checked in to a local hotel and put on a flight the following morning.

Updated: February 10, 2019 10:43 AM