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Air disaster narrowly averted in China: report
by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) Aug 25, 2011

A Chinese pilot's refusal to give up his landing slot to a passenger plane that issued a distress call to say it was running out of fuel almost caused a disaster, state media reported Thursday.

China's privately-owned Juneyao Airlines confirmed that one of its pilots refused to give way when a Qatar Airways plane contacted air traffic controllers at Hongqiao airport, asking permission to land immediately.

The pilot of the Qatar plane said it had just five minutes' worth of fuel left after it was diverted from Shanghai, the Global Times newspaper reported, adding that a disastrous accident was only narrowly averted.

The Qatar plane was travelling from Doha to Shanghai when it was ordered to divert due to a thunderstorm on August 13.

Air traffic controllers in Hongqiao, about 45 kilometres (30 miles) from Shanghai, ordered the Juneyao pilot to circle the airport and allow the Qatar plane to land first, but the pilot refused.

The Global Times said the Juneyao pilot claimed he had been waiting "a long time" and needed to land "right now", citing comments posted online.

Shanghai-based Juneyao Airlines, which was founded in 2005, said the pilot and crew had been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, but that the "rumours on the Internet are far from the truth".

"It remains doubtful whether the fuel on the Qatar Airways plane was really fewer than five minutes," the paper quoted a spokeswoman as saying.

"And why didn't it inform the tower controller earlier?"

At one point, the two aircraft came perilously close for there to be a risk of collision, according to an aviation forum quoted in The Global Times.

"A Mayday is rare and means the plane is in an extreme emergency and may even face the danger of a crash," the paper quoted an unnamed senior air traffic control official as saying.

China's civil aviation authority said in a statement it was investigating the incident and those responsible would be "severely punished".

The Qatar plane landed safely after the incident.


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