Hong Kong fails to explain why Taiwan military plane en route to Pratas Islands turned back

Published (HKT): 2020.10.19 05:39

Hong Kong has still to give a satisfactory explanation for why it turned back a plane chartered by Taiwan’s military that was bound for the Pratas Islands — administered by Taipei and claimed by Beijing.

The B7-9051 military charter flight of UNI AIR was told en route to its destination at 9 a.m. on Thursday that it was flying at an altitude below 26,000 feet in Hong Kong’s flight information region and entering a “danger zone.” The Pratas, or Donsha Islands are a group of atolls about midway between Hong Kong and the self-ruled island.

The pilots queried whether there were military drills taking place but were not given an answer, according to communication records released by Taiwan’s Civil Aviation Administration.

All the pilots were told was: “Hong Kong cannot accept this aircraft” and the plane was forced to turn back to Kaohsiung, on the southeast coast of Taiwan.

No prior warnings had been issued internationally, nor did the Hong Kong side explain what dangerous activities were taking place. Taiwan was notified at 6.24 p.m. that evening that the “danger zone” had expired.

Taiwan chided Hong Kong for failing to announce the danger zone in advance, reminding the government that such notifications should be made in line with international practice so as not to affect flight planning.

Flight data from Flightradar24, showed that a HK Express UO1800 “Flycation” flight from Hong Kong — and bound for Hong Kong — had also flown near the islands at a similar altitude during the mentioned period but did not receive any warning.

The carrier has been selling tickets for 90-minute flights around Hong Kong as a way of generating some business during COVID-19.

It was unclear as to why Hong Kong’s HK Express was allowed to fly into the area but not Taiwan’s UNI AIR, said lawmaker and former commercial pilot Jeremy Tam.

The fact Hong Kong did not delineate the danger zone properly was “problematic” as such areas had to be clearly mapped to avoid accidental breaches.

The Civil Aviation Department did not respond to queries as to why the flight was denied access and said it had nothing else to add.

HK Express did not respond for comment by the time of publication.

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