Development on air routes could be sign of new direction for Taiwan
Analysis: Taipei is allowed to attend a meeting of the UN civil aviation body as a guest
There are more than 600 flights a week between China and Taiwan. It is disconcerting to think that decisions about how this is regulated are made without the participation of a major player such as Taiwan.
Air routes are the highways of the skies – designated pathways between points X and Y.
Just like their terrestrial counterparts, there are different types of air routes, with aircraft below certain technical levels excluded from some routes; and some routes reserved for aircraft with the required equipment, usually some sort of super-duper navigational aid.
It is rather like banning articulated lorries from the outer lane of a three-lane highway, or saying vehicles below a stated horse power cannot travel on a motorway.
The skies between every airport on the planet are criss- crossed by air routes, each one defined as to the points between which it runs, and graded according to the sort of aircraft allowed to use it and the sort that are excluded.
It is all to do with safety and regulating flow and is presided over by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body charged with making, and keeping, the skies safe for passengers.
One such air route links Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Manila and then Taipei, capital of Taiwan. The route is part of the Taipei Flight Information Region, one of several major air-traffic control hubs in one of the busiest air-traffic regions of the world, covering 180 square nautical miles and handling 40 million passengers a year.
Any change so is a big deal for anyone involved in managing air traffic in and out of the airspace controlled from Taipei.
In October 2011, the east Asia air-traffic management co- ordination group of ICAO decided to redesignate and upgrade the Singapore to Taipei route from B348 (as it was then known) to M646, effective May 3rd, 2012.
The upgrade would mean that only aircraft fitted with GPS (global positioning system) navigational equipment would be allowed to fly the route. The October to May time lapse was to allow airlines and air-traffic controllers to reprogramme all the necessary equipment for the change to take effect.
Taiwan is not a member of ICAO, however, because it has been excluded from all UN bodies since the early 1970s when the world changed tack and recognised mainland China as real China, as it were.
Overnight, Taiwan, hitherto designated China in all international forums since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1950, became a non-state, excluded from all international bodies – and the sort of engagement that leads to air-route changes.
So it was by chance, a bare four months before air-traffic controllers in Taiwan would have to implement a significant change, that they learnt of the change, which was by then familiar to everyone else.