Experts say solution is for PLA to open more airspace for commercial operations
Chinese airlines' on-time performance remained poor last year, a recent government report said, despite repeated pledges by civil aviation authorities to solve the problem.
Only about 68 percent of the 3.37 million flights by domestic carriers in 2015 were on time, meaning nearly one-third of Chinese flights were late last year, according to the 2015 Annual Report on Civil Aviation Industry Development released by the Civil Aviation Administration this week.
The late flights had an average delay of 21 minutes - 2 minutes more than in 2014, the report said.
The biggest drag on flights was air traffic control measures, which accounted for 30.7 percent of flight delays last year, followed by bad weather, which caused 29.5 percent of postponements, it said.
Airlines were responsible for 19.1 percent of the delays, and the remaining 20.7 percent were for "other reasons". The administration didn't elaborate on those.
The on-time rate for Chinese airlines in 2014 was also about 68 percent, but carriers themselves were the biggest contributor to delays that year, followed by air traffic control measures and bad weather.
The Civil Aviation Administration has been struggling with flight delays, which is a significant cause of passenger dissatisfaction with Chinese airlines. Lengthy delays have been reported as being behind several serious conflicts between passengers and airport or airline workers.
Airports and carriers that have poor on-time performance can face punishment including the reduction of operations or suspension of charter services.
In one remedial move, the administration opened several one-way air routes to allow commercial aircraft to travel to and return from a destination in separate lanes, instead of strict two-way routing using the same flight path, which requires pilots to adjust altitude to avoid collisions.
The measure is designed to help boost efficiency in the use of airspace and reduce congestion in the air.
However, observers have said that while the move does mitigate delays to some extent, its not enough to resolve the problem.
"The ultimate solution is to open more airspace to civil aviation," said Zeng Tao, an aviation industry observer in Beijing. "Other efforts made by air traffic management bureaus, airlines and airports have proved to have limited effects."
China's airspace is tightly controlled by the People's Liberation Army Air Force, and the current airspace designated for commercial flights is far from enough to meet the rising demand from Chinese carriers, he said.
Lyu Biao, an aviation industry analyst in Tianjin, said that unless the government and military release more airspace it will be virtually impossible to uproot the punctuality issue because there will just be more flights added over existing routes to satisfy passengers' travel needs.