The reputation of Chinese air travel has received yet another blow after official data revealed domestic flight delays increased by 50 percent in 2017.
Already home to the world’s least punctual flights, data released on Monday by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) showed average flight delays increased to 24 minutes last year, up from 16 minutes in 2016.
Since 2005, punctuality rates have got worse and worse, with the latest CAAC data showing the number of flights departing on time fell to 71.68 percent last year. A decade ago punctuality rates hovered around 81 percent, according to China Daily.
The CAAC’s report showed that 51.28 percent of delayed flights took off late because of bad weather, while 7.72 percent of the delays occurred because of “air traffic control reasons.”
32.38 percent of flights were delayed because of unspecified “other reasons,” which China Daily has in the past interpreted as including military exercises. According to Caixin, military activity accounted for as much as a quarter of all flight delays in the first half of 2017, a sharp climb up from causing seven percent of delays in 2013.
With more than four million flights taking off in 2017, demand for air travel in China has skyrocketed, with 4,418 domestic and international routes in operation. However, the rise in delays suggests that authorities are struggling to cope with the sheer number of take-offs and passengers.
A separate study released earlier this month by UK-based air travel analysis firm OAG ranked the world’s 20 biggest airlines, and named Air China the worst for punctuality, with only 60.1 percent of flights departing on time.
China Eastern and China Southern were ranked 19th and 18th respectively, far behind frontrunner Japan Airlines which saw 85.3 percent of its flights depart on time, and United Airlines, with a punctuality rate of 79.9 percent.
CAAC has recognized the problems facing the domestic civil aviation industry after rapid growth in the past decade, with customer complaints increased by more than 29 percent last year.
The industry is set to expand even further in the near future, with the National Development and Reform Commission announcing earlier this month plans to build 136 new airports by 2025. With Beijing set to unveil the world’s largest airport next year, CAAC has implemented several measures to boost punctuality in the face of more and more pressure from additional flights taking off.
Last October, CAAC ordered Beijing Capital and Shanghai Pudong airports to reduce flight numbers to 75 percent of capacity, in a bid to boost punctuality. The move had an instant effect, with national on-time take off rates hitting 88 percent in December, according to CAAC’s data.
2017 also saw the CAAC announce moves to punish airlines and airports for consistent delays, with six carriers and two airports barred from adding new routes last September. China Daily reported that Beijing Capital International Airport was punished after failing punctuality standards for five consecutive months, and received a six-month ban on adding new flights or destinations.
A study published last year by researchers from three Chinese universities found that flight delays in 2013 indirectly cost the Chinese economy 350.7 billion yuan (55 billion US dollars), due to passengers’ lost business and additional costs incurred by airports and airlines.
BY Nicholas Moore