Published: Tue, February 12, 2019

Registration mistake turned back New Zealand flight to China

Registration mistake turned back New Zealand flight to China

In the early hours of Sunday morning, and Air New Zealand flight en route to Shanghai returned to Auckland, sparking speculation that an administrative issue may be a guise for a diplomatic incident.

"A technicality meant the particular aircraft operating this service did not have Chinese regulatory authority to land in China", the airline said.

"Midway through our flight, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around". New Zealand news website Stuff claimed to have spoken to multiple sources saying the turnback was down to a "reference to Taiwan which China took to be an acknowledgement that the island was independent".

China has a history of demanding global airlines not refer to Taiwan's independence or nationhood on its websites or promotional material, and in the past has urged Qantas, Air Canada and others to change how it refers to the island.

The airline said on Monday that China denied the plane landing permission due to an administrative error.

The plane was almost five hours into its journey when it turned around.

Air New Zealand did not respond to questions about a Taiwan link but said "as is required, the application includes a list of destinations the airline operates to, including Taipei".

Ardern is left trotting out the line that this is a scheduling issue, and the only thing keeping her from an official visit is scheduling clashes.

"We've got a situation right now where the Prime Minister is seeking meetings in China and she can't get them and there is a relationship problem here, " he continued.

On the other, if China wanted to demonstrate its power to cause considerable pain to a country resisting its expansion, while causing relatively little pain to its own economy, New Zealand could be an attractive target.

When asked about the status of the Huawei 5G contract, she said that data and security were the most important considerations, emphasizing that "it's not about vendor, it's not about country".

China has postponed a major tourism campaign in New Zealand days before its launch and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to Beijing has been further delayed as concerns mount of strained ties over China's growing influence in the Pacific.

"We've not received any communication of this nature", an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said at the time.

The approximate number of hours NZ289 was into its Auckland-to-Shanghai flight when it had to turn back.

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