David Learmount/LONDON

Air-route traffic capacity across the South China Sea in Vietnamese and Chinese controlled airspace is to be doubled following agreement between the two countries. The main beneficiary will be traffic linking Singapore/Kuala Lumpur/Jakarta with Hong Kong/Taipei/Manila.

The deal brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will reduce delays and improve scheduling flexibility for airlines, according to the International Air Transport Association's regional office in Singapore.

Though discussions have been under way since 1997, only now is there an agreement to double the number of north-south routes available over the South China Sea, including Hainan Island, creating four new parallel airways separated by 110km (60nm).

The new system will be set up on a trial basis for three years beginning on 1 November 2001 under the supervision of an ICAO task force. Meanwhile, says ICAO, it will be co-ordinating talks between China and Vietnam aiming to agree amendments to the regional air navigation plan, which is expected to be completed within the same three-year period.

Although no change will be made to the area designated as the Hong Kong flight information region, the Hong Kong "area of responsibility" will go, and some traffic now handled by the Hong Kong air traffic control centre will be directed by the Sanyo area control centre on Hainan Island.

It will also take over some of the traffic now handled by the Vietnamese air traffic control centre at Ho Chi Minh City.

Source: Flight International