Paperwork snafu forces Air New Zealand China turn-back

Frederick Owens
February 12, 2019

The Air NZ Flight 289 from Auckland to Shanghai, with 270 passengers aboard, turned around about five hours into the journey on Sunday after the airline discovered a "technicality", meaning the particular aircraft in operation, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, did not have regulatory authority to land in China.

"I've just experienced a new level of China Bad: midway through our flight from Auckland to Shanghai, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around".

When asked to comment on the issue by the news agency, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied that it was an indication of strained relations between China and her country, and was instead due to administrative issues.

In a statement Air New Zealand said the plane was new to the company's fleet, and did not have the correct paperwork allowing it to land in China.

The incident marks yet another arbitrary move by Beijing to impose its ideology upon foreign companies, following the CAA order on April 24 of a year ago that forced airlines to refer to Taiwan as part of China on their websites, which the U.S. White House called "Orwellian nonsense". According to sources "the Chinese were very explicit" about what the issue was, however the issue was not resolved.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asserted that an incident involving a Shanghai-bound Air New Zealand flight turning back to Auckland last Saturday was an "administrative issue" and would have no impact on diplomatic ties with China.

"Air New Zealand has been very open about the fact that there is a requirement from China's end for planes going into China to be registered".

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Ardern's remarks came after the incident sparked political speculations in New Zealand over its diplomatic ties with China.

Ardern cancelled her first planned state visit in November 2018 because both parties were too busy.

She conceded that China and New Zealand have a "complex relationship" which has "its challenges".

The same flight, NZ289, was turned back on a flight to China on Aug 24 a year ago, although an airline spokeswoman said that was due to an engineering issue, not a permitting one.

On the other, if China wanted to demonstrate its power to cause considerable pain to a country resisting its expansion, while causing relatively little pain to its own economy, New Zealand could be an attractive target.

"We've not received any communication of this nature", an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said at the time. It turned around several hours into the flight.

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