China should immediately retract its unilateral changes of flight routes across the Taiwan Strait for the sake of aviation safety

  • 2024-02-15
  • Amb. Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative of Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

Without holding prior consultations with Taiwan in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regulations, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) made a unilateral announcement on 30 January in effect revoking the 2015 cross-Strait agreement on the M503, W122, and W123 flight routes, starting from 1 February.  The decision was to cancel flight offsets for all southbound flights operating on the M503 flight route and activating eastbound operations on the W122 and W123 routes connecting M503 with the cities of Fuzhou and Xiamen of Fujian Province, China.  

This means that all north-to-south flights will no longer to veer off 6 nautical miles (11 kilometers) to the west from the designated route - as agreed by Taipei and Beijing in 2015 - and can now fly on the original path, bringing the aircraft much closer to the median line, which is just 4.2 nautical miles (7.8 km) away, at the closest point, and the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR).  These routes lying in proximity to airports of Taiwan-controlled island groups of Kinmen and Matsu islands, respectively, not only seriously jeopardize aviation safety, peace, and stability in the region, but also undermine mutual trust and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

Contrary to China’s justification that the route changes are to help alleviate flight congestion and ensure safer flight safety, it is widely known that China has not yet fully resumed its international flight services after the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has actually been a huge decline in China’s international flights on the M503 route. Given the absence of prior cross-Strait communication, such decision disregards flight safety and disrespects Taiwan.   This is a move with malicious political and military intention against Taiwan in the name of civil aviation that could alter the status quo of the Taiwan Strait.

Section 4.2.6 of ICAO’s Air Traffic Services Planning Manual stipulates that changes to any route network should be made only after they have been coordinated with all parties concerned. Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration is the sole competent authority for the Taipei Flight Information Region, which lies next to the M503 route. China’s announcement changing a related route network without prior consultations with Taiwan constitutes a serious violation of ICAO regulations and underscores China’s irresponsible authoritarian nature.

China’s rude and unreasonable arbitrary actions of changing the flight paths were a blatant neglect of aviation safety and a show of disrespect for Taiwan.  China’s move has led an increase in tensions across the Taiwan Strait, and triggered far-reaching repercussions on aviation safety and regional stability.  These adjustments reveal clearly China’s uncontrolled ambition and broader efforts to assert sovereignty over airspace and waters around Taiwan, by deliberately denying and completely eliminating the existence of the median line.

This heavy-handed and unreasonable act by China, as well as its virtually daily flying of surveillance balloons into Taiwan’s airspace since Taiwan’s presidential election, have gravely impacted regional aviation safety and cross-strait peace and stability, signifying a change to the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. The flight paths to and from Xiamen and Fuzhou are dangerously close to those Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu islands.  In terms of aviation safety and regional security, both Taiwan and China are stakeholders and the parties concerned.  China should open talks with Taiwan on the route changes as soon as possible. 

Taiwan urges the international community to pay due attention to this matter and jointly demand that China immediately retract the decision and promptly negotiate with Taiwan on the activation of these new flight routes, devoid of any prerequisites.

If China clings obstinately to its ill-intentioned decision, it must bear full responsibility for potential aviation risks and any consequences affecting cross-strait relations.