By Director General Charles Chou
Amidst recent developments following China’s unilateral declaration on January 30, 2024, regarding modifications to flight routes M503, W122, and W123 in the region, there are deep-seated concerns regarding the potential repercussions on aviation safety and regional stability.
The decisions by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), made without prior consultations with Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration (TCAA), not only violate established protocols but also present considerable risks to flights within the Taiwan Strait.
In 2015, China and Taiwan entered into negotiations to determine how the flight path could be established. The outcome of those consultations resulted in an agreement that the M503 flight route be offset an additional 6 nautical miles to the west and be used for north-to-south flights only. But now the CAAC wants to forego the previously agreed route without prior consultations.
In addition to this, the CAAC is allowing for the connection routes W122 and W123, which operate only flights westbound from the M503 route, to now operate eastbound flights as well.
According to the manual established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it states that when contemplating adjustments to route networks, all relevant parties must be taken into consideration and consulted on the matter. However, when Taiwan requested for China to engage into negotiations upon these announced changes, our requests were heavily disregarded.
Despite Taiwan voicing their concerns that the M503 route now encroaches so closely to the border between Shanghai’s and Taipei’s Flight Information Regions, as well as intersects with pre-existing flight paths to Taiwan’s outer islands Kinmen and Matsu, China’s unilateral decision not only undermines the significant instructions put into place by the ICAO, but raises immediate concerns for aviation safety.
Contrary to China’s claims that the route changes are to help alleviate flight congestion and ensure safer flight patterns, a closer examination has revealed that – after the COVID-19 pandemic – there has actually been a decline in China’s international flights on the M503 route.
This suggests that China’s actions are more likely to be driven by political motives than genuine concerns for aviation safety. The timing of China’s actions, coinciding with the fair and free democratic election Taiwan just demonstrated in the beginning of January, testify that China’s motivation for these flight route adjustments are indeed politically-driven, meant to place pressure and force coercion onto Taiwan. These actions signal a significant challenge to the delicate balance in the region, as the status quo of cross-strait relations continues to be forcefully impacted by China.
Acknowledging the severity of the situation, it is essential for nations across the globe to articulate their concerns and dissent against China’s politically driven actions, which compromise the safety of regional flights.
We urge the international community to unite in insisting that China cease this assertive action promptly and engage in peaceful consultations with Taiwan regarding the adjustment of these flight routes, devoid of any prerequisites.
In the absence of meaningful consultations, China must bear unilateral responsibility for the potential disastrous consequences that may ensue.