China says its new flight routes that Taiwan objects to are needed to ease flight delays

BEIJING, China – New commercial flight routes off China’s southeast coast are intended to ease chronic flight delays, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday, without commenting on Taiwan’s concerns they could affect flight safety in its airspace.

China announced this week that it would open four new routes from March 5 to help alleviate congestion between Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta.

Taiwan has complained that one route is too close to a busy area of airspace that it administers while the other three could affect flights between Taiwan and two of its outlying islands.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported Thursday that Taiwan has taken its objection to the U.N.’s aviation agency. The International Civil Aviation Organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the planned routes were a response to noticeable increases in recent years in the numbers of flights on the western side of the Taiwan Strait.

“Flight congestion has become a serious problem,” Hong told reporters at a daily briefing. “Flight delay rates have continued to go up. The decision to set up the air route in the Shanghai flight information region is aimed at ensuring flight safety and passenger rights and facilitating the development of China’s civil aviation.”

China’s fast growing air travel market is the world’s second biggest, but the heavy air traffic and tight control of airspace by the military have given it the world’s worst record for flight delays.

Flight cancellations and delays have sparked frequent incidents of air rage aboard Chinese flights and at airports.

Last month, China gave the go-ahead for a third airport for the capital, Beijing, in a bid to reduce congestion and chronic delays.

The dispute over the flight routes risks increasing tensions between Beijing and the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, a month after Taiwan’s China-friendly ruling party suffered a stunning defeat in local elections.