Air traffic around Taiwan returning to normal despite new Chinese drills

TAIPEI (REUTERS) – Air traffic around Taiwan is gradually returning to normal after airspace surrounding the island reopened, Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications said on Monday (Aug 8), although China later announced fresh military drills in the area.

China last week deployed scores of planes and fired live missiles near during military exercises sparked by United House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

The drills led some airlines to cancel flights to Taipei and to alter flight paths between South-east Asia and North-east Asia to avoid the affected area.

Beijing-issued notices to airmen (NOTAM) had declared temporary danger areas for airlines to avoid during the exercises that encircled much of Taiwan. The final NOTAM covering a section of airspace east of the island expired on Monday at 0200 GMT (10am Singapore time) and was not extended.

China’s military announced fresh drills in the seas and airspace around Taiwan on Monday, but no specific location was provided, no new NOTAM was issued and there were no signs on flight tracking service FlightRadar24 of airlines adjusting routings.

Taiwan’s transportation ministry earlier said most scheduled flights to and from the island had continued to operate during the Chinese military exercises that began on Aug 4, averaging around 150 departures and arrivals per day.

The number of flights transiting through the airspace its controllers manage is gradually returning to normal after the final NOTAM was lifted, the ministry added in the statement on its website.

Some foreign airlines that typically used the airspace had instead flown alternative routes through areas managed by Japan and the Philippines during the drills, the ministry said last week.

Singapore Airlines and Scoot have resumed their flights to Taiwan, after cancelling them last week due to airspace restrictions. 

Singapore Airlines’ SQ879 left Taipei for Singapore on Sunday evening while SQ878 departed Singapore on Sunday afternoon. A Scoot flight left Singapore for Taipei at 1am on Monday. 

Korean Air Lines, which had cancelled flights to Taipei on Friday and Saturday and rerouted others to avoid the affected area, said on Monday that it had resumed normal flight operations.

Philippine Airlines said it would return its flights to and from Taipei to their normal routings after using alternative flight paths during the last four days of drills.

There was no immediate response from the airlines after the new Chinese announcement.

Temporary airspace closures and route changes during major military exercises occur regularly around the world.

This situation was unusual in that China’s exercises bisect Taiwan’s claimed 12 nautical miles (22km) of territorial waters – something Taiwanese officials say challenges the international order and amounted to imposing a blockade of its sea and airspace.