Air NZ passengers on diverted flight to China touch down in Shanghai

Wellington: Passengers on board an Air New Zealand flight to Shanghai that was forced to return to Auckland over the weekend have finally landed in China.

Air New Zealand flight NZ289, which departed Auckland for Shanghai about 11.45pm on Saturday, made a U-turn to New Zealand 4½ hours after take-off.

An Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner has touched down in Shanghai carrying a load of passengers who were on an earlier flight that was turned away by Chinese authorities.Credit:Jarred Williamson/Stuff

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said that, because of a technicality, the aircraft operating the service, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, did not have regulatory authority to land in China.

The rescheduled flight departed at 11pm on Sunday and landed at Shanghai's Pudong Airport about noon on Monday, New Zealand time, with a flight time of 12 hours and eight minutes, according to flight tracking website www.flightaware.com.

The flight that touched down in Shanghai on Monday was a Boeing 787-9 with the registration ZK-NZH.

NYU Shanghai assistant professor Eric Hundman was on the diverted flight and tweeted about the experience.

He said Air New Zealand offered passengers a "gesture of goodwill" in the form of a $NZ200 ($190) voucher, in addition to paying for hotel rooms.

New Zealand's Minister for Transport Phil Twyford said his staff told him of the diversion once the issue became public.

"Air New Zealand advised that they made an administrative error, and that was the reason the flight had to return to Auckland," he said.

"Air New Zealand has acknowledged its mistake so it's not necessary for me to take any action."

New Zealand political journalist Richard Harman speculated on his website Politik that the rejection of flight NZ289 was China reacting to New Zealand's decision to ban Chinese telco Huawei from supplying 5G to New Zealand telco Spark.

However, aviation commentator Irene King said the flight was most likely forced to turn back because there had been a "cock-up" with the paperwork at Air New Zealand's end.

She said it was most likely the aircraft registration filed with the Chinese authorities was different from the registration of the aircraft that was used on the flight.

"In that scenario there's just no way the Chinese were ever going to permit that aircraft to land."

Data from flight tracking website Flightradar shows that the diverted flight was a Boeing 787-9 with the registration ZK-NZQ, on lease from Air Lease Corporation (ALC) according to www.airfleets.net.

In September ALC announced the delivery of a new Boeing 787-9 aircraft on long-term lease to Air New Zealand.

Pundits on Flyertalk.com hypothesised that ZK-NZQ was new to the Shanghai route and Air New Zealand had not flagged it with Chinese authorities for sign off.

Air New Zealand did not respond to questions about the aircraft.

King said while it was highly unusual for aircraft to be diverted due to incorrect flight registrations, it was not unheard of.

Countries around the world were cautious about who was flying in their airspace, she said.

"The Chinese in particular are very protective of their airspace so you do have to be quite precise about the registration of your aircraft."

In some circumstances it was possible for airlines to find a quick solution to an incorrect flight plan however, because the incident with flight NZ289 occurred over the weekend there was little chance of anyone within China's bureaucracy who would have been able to make an amendment to allow the flight to land, she said.

"You have to go with what has been filed and there's a process for amending the flight plan and obviously that process doesn't work 24 hours, seven days a week."

Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Shanghai six times a week.

Stuff

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