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Two Nansha islands greet their first civil flights

By Zhang Yunbi (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-14 07:16

Two Nansha islands greet their first civil flights

A China Southern Airlines jet lands on the new airport on Meiji Reef in the South China Sea on Wednesday.[Photo/Xinhua]

New runways cut travel time for 1,000-plus km trip to southernmost China from 30 to 2 hours

Two civil airliners touched down for the first time on runways on Meiji Reef and Zhubi Reef in the South China Sea on Wednesday, showing the feasibility of the two new Nansha Islands as flight destinations in China's southernmost territories.

The Nansha Islands now have three airports accessible to commercial airliners-in January, an airliner landed at Yongshu Reef-opening the possibility of travelers covering the 1,000-plus kilometers to the islands in two hours.

Up to now, visitors' only option was to travel by ship for more than 30 hours from Hainan Island to Zhubi, a scenic reef in the southern part of the South China Sea, and then another nine hours heading southeast to Meiji Reef.

On Wednesday morning, the China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines jets took off from Meilan International Airport in Haikou on their respective approximately two-hour test flights to Meiji and Zhubi.

In Zhubi, airport personnel gathered to greet the crew on board and burst into applause.

Hainan Airlines pilot Hu Xianzhong said, "Zhubi is one of the southernmost reefs of the country, and it is a heartfelt honor to conduct the test flight and land at this airport as a pilot and as a Chinese citizen."

Both planes returned to Haikou in the afternoon. It remains unclear whether the flights to two reefs will become regular routes.

Prior to the civil flights, civil aviation authorities conducted flights to the two airports on Tuesday to verify the airports' ability to ensure the safety of civil airliners.

Observers said that as the South China Sea is one of the busiest airspaces for international flights, the new airports could prove useful for emergency landings and eventual maritime search and rescue missions.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said new civilian facilities on the islands show China's "great sense of duty and increasing ability to serve international public interest".

In addition to the airports, China has built lighthouses, hospitals and scientific research centers on the islands that serve the world, Wu said.

The Ministry of Transport confirmed on Sunday that China has completed the construction of four lighthouses on reefs in the Nansha Islands and is currently building a fifth one to aid navigation in the area.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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