Increase in passengers blamed as rate dives to lowest since 2005
BEIJING - Airline punctuality dipped below 81 percent for the first time since 2005, according to statistics.
The average punctuality rate for Chinese airlines nationwide last year was around 76 percent, according to statistics provided by China Eastern Airlines.
Sources with the Shanghai-based carrier said the figures were based on monthly data released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
This showed a decline in the punctuality rate from 2005 to 2009, which remained above 81 percent, according to CAAC statistics.
The rate was 81.99 percent in 2005, 81.48 percent in 2006, 83.06 percent in 2007, 82.65 percent in 2008 and 81.90 percent in 2009.
The best performer last year was China Eastern, with 79.04 percent of its flights taking off on time, some 3 percentage points higher than the average.
Xiamen Airlines came next with a punctuality rate of 78.62 percent, with Shandong Airlines following with 76.84 percent.
Increased passenger numbers last year contributed to the lower rate, Liu Guangcai, professor at the Civil Aviation University of China, said.
"China's aviation market recovered in 2010 after the financial crisis hit the industry in 2008 and 2009. Official figures showed that the number of passengers last year climbed some 22 percent from 2009," Liu told China Daily on Monday.
Increased flights had also made airports and air routes much busier and frequent spells of bad weather had disrupted schedules, he said.
Many travelers were not surprised at the figures, as they had experienced delays themselves.
Ma Yue, an actor, said in recent months he flew between Beijing and Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, almost once a week.
"Flights delays are quite common. Once I waited three hours on the plane before it took off," he said.
Another resident from Beijing, who only gave his surname, Zhao, said he traveled at least weekly between Beijing and Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. He said a 30-minute delay is common.
"Isn't it an exaggeration to say that more than 70 percent of flights really take off on time?" he asked.
Experts believe that the method of calculation is responsible for the disparity between what people feel and the findings.
Li Xiaojin, also a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China, said that in China, a flight is considered punctual as long as the plane's door is closed at the departure time. That means that even if passengers are kept waiting in a plane for 30 minutes or more before taking off, the flight is considered punctual.
But in many countries only flights that actually take off within 15 minutes of the departure time printed on the ticket are considered punctual, he said.
"Such differences in calculation lead to passenger mistrust about the figures," he said.
The CAAC has taken measures in the past year to boost punctuality and major violators face punishment.
Nonetheless, CAAC deputy head Xia Xinghua, believed that Chinese airlines, with a punctuality rate of around 80 percent, are "among leading worldwide carriers in this aspect", the Xinhua News Agency reported in August 2010.
"Airlines do not want to delay flights because it means economic losses," said Liu Weimin, an aviation expert with the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China.
Liu suggested opening more airspace for civil aviation to cut the number of delays.
Liu, from the aviation university, said currently less than 30 percent of Chinese airspace is open to civil aviation with 70 percent for military use. He said airspace limitations must be adjusted to make more civil routes available.
Air traffic control should be improved and more runways at airports should be built to cut delays, he suggested.
Minister of Transport Li Shenglin said in December that the country targets an 80 percent punctuality rate in the next five years, the Economic Observation Net reported.
Cao Yin contributed to this story.
(China Daily 01/25/2011 page1)