A civilian aircraft chartered by the military completed a flight from Taiwan to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) in the South China Sea yesterday, 11 days after a previously scheduled trip was cut short by Hong Kong air traffic controllers for no apparent reason.
The UNI Air ATR72-600 aircraft, which transported coast guard officers, marine national park personnel and supplies to the islands, departed from Kaohsiung International Airport at 8:35am, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) official Lai Yu-chieh (賴育杰) said.
The plane touched down on the Pratas Islands at 9:44am, and returned to Kaohsiung at 11:39am, the CGA said.
Lai declined to say how many officers were on board the aircraft or whether the CGA had communicated with Hong Kong before the flight.
On Oct. 15, the same aircraft was told by Hong Kong air traffic controllers not to enter the airspace over Pratas Islands because “dangerous activities” were in progress in the area.
The pilot asked when the “dangerous activities” would end, but received no response from the air traffic controllers and eventually returned to Kaohsiung.
The Pratas Islands, administered by Taiwan, but also claimed by China, are about 310km southeast of Hong Kong and are within its Flight Information Region (FIR).
It has been a long-standing practice for Taiwanese air traffic controllers to inform their Hong Kong counterparts whenever a plane in the Taipei FIR is about to enter the Hong Kong FIR and is about 20 to 30 nautical miles (37km to 56km) away.
If there are hazards along the route, Hong Kong air traffic controllers should issue an advance “notice to airmen,” but no such notice was given that day, the Civil Aeronautics Administration said.
After the incident, Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said that at the time, the ministry did not identify any Chinese military exercises being conducted in the region, in the air or at sea.
Every Thursday, routine flights from Kaohsiung transport officers to and from the Pratas Islands. They usually take about 70 minutes.
They are contracted by the military to UNI Air, a regional subsidiary of EVA Airways.
A routine flight on Thursday last week was canceled due to poor weather conditions and postponed to yesterday, the CGA said.
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