The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) on Friday disclosed a full transcript of the communications between Taiwanese and Hong Kong air traffic controllers, rebutting the latter’s claim that a Taiwanese plane had voluntarily abandoned its flight path.
Hong Kong denied permission for the plane to proceed to the disputed Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), which are claimed by both Taiwan and China, the CAA said.
The incident happened on Thursday when a civil aircraft chartered by the military was advised by Hong Kong air traffic controllers to not enter the airspace over a group of islands in the South China Sea because of “dangerous activities” in the area, the CAA said.
The Pratas Islands, which are administered by Taiwan, are about 310km southeast of Hong Kong and are within its Flight Information Region (FIR).
It has been standard practice for Taiwanese air traffic controllers to inform their Hong Kong counterparts about planes that are to enter the territory’s FIR 20 to 30 nautical miles (37km to 56km) ahead of entry, the CAA said.
On the day of the incident, Hong Kong contacted Taipei when the plane was still 50 to 60 nautical miles (93km to 111km) away from the Hong Kong-administered FIR, it said.
The Uni Air ATR2-600 aircraft was transporting coast guard officers and marine national park personnel to the islands, where about 250 officers are regularly stationed.
The Taipei side on that day asked the Hong Kong side if the denial of passage was due to ongoing military exercises, but no further information was given, the transcript showed.
However, the Hong Kong air traffic controller indicated that he simply could not allow a Taiwanese plane into the area, it showed.
“Affirmative, so Hong Kong cannot accept this aircraft. Can you talk to your military?” the Hong Kong air traffic controller said, according to the transcript.
Asked by Taipei if any notice had been given in advance about the supposed danger in the area, Hong Kong said no.
Normally, notice is given 48 hours in advance for activities such as military drills, according to military experts.
Earlier on Friday, Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department said it received a CAA notice of the UNI Air aircraft’s planned entry into the Hong Kong FIR and reminded Taipei that the plane must stay above the minimum safe altitude.
Then the Taiwanese side canceled the entry request, the Hong Kong department said, adding that it followed protocol in handling the situation.
According to the transcript, the Hong Kong air traffic controller indicated that only the area above 26,000 feet (7,925m) was safe.
The aircraft was not equipped to fly above that altitude and was eventually forced to return to Kaohsiung, the CAA said.
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