Airlines Not Voicing Concerns Over Potential China Airspace Closure

Bejing International Airport
Credit: WANG ZHAO / AFP / Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar—The airline industry is currently not worried about any potential airspace closure over China, akin to that over Russia, according to IATA’s Director General. 

This is despite politicians around the Asia-Pacific region warning that the East could become the next Ukraine in the event of miscalculated moves.  

No airlines have raised concerns, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said at the recent IATA annual general meeting in Doha.

“We’d like to have as many airspace opportunities as possible but with various restrictions it is becoming more difficult to navigate the globe,” Walsh said. “But I am not aware of any potential threat in relation to Chinese airspace closure.” 

Walsh added that he hopes to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.

“China has been excellent in the way they have modernized their systems over recent years,” Walsh said. “So, I’m a great admirer of what Chinese aviation has achieved sooner because the pace of growth there. The focus on safety, the improvements in efficiency, the aerospace usage has really been positive.”

“Hopefully, the politics will work out correctly so that there’s no hostility,” IATA regional VP Philip Goh said in a separate briefing. “But dealing with one [closure] is more than enough. We don’t wish to see another one.” 

At the high-level security summit IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this June, numerous Asian and western leaders highlighted their concerns of a potential flashpoint over the Taiwan Straits. China has also reiterated that it will “fight all the way” to prevent a Taiwan independence. 

Although the impact of a Chinese airspace closure would be relatively minimal, flights to South Korea and Japan from the south would have to take a longer detour around the Taiwan island. Taiwan-based China Airlines will almost surely be grounded, especially if China conducted attacks on airports and enforced the territory’s air space with military aircraft. 

More ominously, the supply chain from the “world’s factory” will be cut, putting tremendous strain on the export of consumer, industrial, and high value goods.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.