Pilots required to train for ‘blind landings’ to cope with smog at Beijing airport

Move aimed at reducing delays at airport where just 18% of flights depart on time

Heavy smog in Beijing: from January 1st, pilots flying into Beijing from other parts of China will have to have special qualifications to certify they can land in severe smog. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Heavy smog in Beijing: from January 1st, pilots flying into Beijing from other parts of China will have to have special qualifications to certify they can land in severe smog. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images.

 


From the start of next year, pilots flying into Beijing from other parts of China will have to have special qualifications to certify they can land in severe smog, a manoeuvre known as a “blind landing”.

Heavy smog has led to chronic flight delays at Beijing Capital International Airport, China’s busiest airport, and aviation authorities are hoping that requiring captains of flights to manage low-visibility landings will ease delays.

“The administration is promoting the technology to reduce the impact on flights by severe natural conditions,” said an unnamed official of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, adding that it would be up to the airlines to decide whether to use auto-landing in low visibility.


Poor record
Beijing airport has the worst record for tardiness, with just 18 per cent of flights departing on time.

The pilots will have to learn to land their aircraft using auto-landing equipment when visibility falls to 400 metres. Currently aircraft are diverted to other airports when visibility is that low.

Usually government officials blame the delays on weather conditions rather than pollution.

The upgrade in pilot qualifications ensures more flights can be on time in bad weather conditions, Zhao Yao, a pilot for Air China, told the Global Times.


Training costs
Aviation authorities previously did not require Chinese pilots to be trained for low-visibility auto-landing because of hefty training costs, according to Shu Ping, dean of aviation safety at China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology.

“The training is very expensive, and the low visibility was not a normal condition,” Mr Shu said. “Now with more smoggy days, the probability of landing with low visibility is higher.”

One annual report estimates that weather conditions caused more than 20 per cent of the flight delays last year in China, though it does not elaborate on how many were attributed to air pollution.

Pollution is not the only reason for the chronic delays at Beijing’s airport. Other factors include the fact that air corridors for commercial aviation are narrow because of the powerful military’s tight control over airspace.