NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE
New arrangements will permit the opening of extra routes in the region
China has for the first time taken responsibility for international airspace regulated by International Civil Aviation Organisation practices instead of Chinese state laws as part of a major revamp of South China Sea airspace control.
A new Sanya area of responsibility (AOR) was officially established on 1 November after years of negotiations between China, Vietnam and ICAO, allowing for the opening of new air routes in the region.
There are now three sets of north-south parallel routes in the South China Sea, namely L642/M771, N892/L625 and N884/M767. The routes benefit traffic between South-East Asian cities and Hong Kong and Manila.
A new route known as A202 has also opened across the west coast of Hainan Island for traffic between Bangkok and Hong Kong.
The area control centre on Sanya, a coastal city in southern China's Hainan Island province, now has responsibility for the provision of air traffic control, rescue and other services for an area of around 284,000km2 (110,000 miles2).
It has come as part of a long-discussed revamp of responsibility that has seen Hong Kong and Vietnam giving up parts of their flight information regions (FIRs) and the Hong Kong AOR being "suspended".
The assistant director for infrastructure in the International Air Transport Association's Singapore office, David Behrens, estimates that Hong Kong has lost around 20-25% of its FIR as part of the reorganisation, while Vietnam has lost around 15-20% of its FIR at Ho Chi Minh City.
China had for years been demanding control of the airspace and agreement was initially reached in 1997. The Sanya AOR's establishment was delayed for political and other reasons but final agreement was reached late in 2000.
The new arrangements are officially on trial for three years but are expected to be formalised at the end of the trial period.