On August 13, 2011, Qatar Airways flight QR888 inbound to Shanghai Pudong International Airport from Doha, Qatar was diverted to Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport due to thunderstorms. At the time there were approximately 20 aircrafts circling Shanghai Pudong Airport waiting to land. Qatar Airways flight QR888 reported to Hongqiao Airport that it was low on fuel and applied for priority landing.  The airport controller started the priority landing procedures, requesting other aircrafts to yield. Flight QR888 crew reported that it had only 5 minutes left before fuel exhaustion (prior to extorting to the last 30 minutes of emergency fuel). The airport controller immediately requested all other aircrafts to clear space for flight QR888 to land.  

At the moment China Southern Airlines flight CZ3525 had already established landing channel, but it immediately yielded and circled back. Meanwhile Jixiang Airways flight HO1112 was in the process of building landing channel. However, flight HO1112 refused to yield.

Qatar Airways flight QR888 crew issued distress call “Mayday” (international aircraft distress signal used for emergencies). The ground controller again commanded Jixiang Airways flight HO1112 to yield. However, once again Jixiang Airways flight HO1112 refused to give way. Instead, flight HO1112 crew told the airport controller that it was also low on fuel and must land.

During the process of trying to establish emergency priority landing channel for Qatar Airways flight QR888, the airport controller issued avoidance commands for Jixiang Airways flight HO1112 seven times. (Flight QR888 had been in the air for over 8 hours 40 minutes after taking off from Doha, Qatar; while Jixiang flight HO1112 is a domestic flight from Shenzhen city) Nevertheless, Jixiang Airways flight HO1112 refused to carry out airport controller’s commands and was adamant on landing first.

Hence the airport controller had to request flight HO1112 to accelerate in order to increase distance and directed QR888 to turn further before landing. At 15:33 HO1112 landed. At 15:37 QR888 landed. Only a few minutes lapsed between the two aircrafts.

After both passenger aircrafts landed, inspectors found that Jixiang flight HO1112 still had enough fuel to last another 42 minutes (before extorting to the last 30 minutes emergency fuel) and Qatar Airways flight QR888 had remaining fuel for another 18 minutes (before extorting to the last 30 minutes emergency fuel).

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is furious and throws the books at Jixiang Airways. It decides to restrict Jixiang Airways air transportation capacity by 10% for 3 months. (Jixiang Airway is a Chinese privately-owned airline). Further, the Administration revokes flight HO1112 pilot’s license (the pilot is Korean) to fly in China and bans the pilot from working as a crew member within Chinese territory. The co-pilot’s license is also suspended for 6 months. CAAC is lenient on the Qatar flight and determines that flight QR888 crew erred in predicting how long the remaining fuel can last, but did not acted in vicious violations (considering equipment rounding errors). CAAC further notifies Korean and Qatar aviation authorities, as well as international aviation organizations about the incident.

In international aviation, “Mayday” signal is used in emergency situations, such as engine failure, fire, immanent crash, out of fuel. When a “Mayday” signal is issued, all other aircrafts would normally remain silent on their radios so that smooth communications can be established between the distressed airplane and the ground controller. The distressed airplane is given priority to avoid crash or other disasters.  Under such circumstances, Jixiang flight HO1112 refused to yield, lied about its fuel, obstructed ground controller’s instructions, and blocked the distressed airplane, in order to land first. Such behavior could have led to major disasters involving loss of lives. What was going on the pilot’s mind? To save fuel because circling back would mean waiting at the end of the line? To make sure that his flight would arrive on time at whatever cost? To show that he is tough?

Wherever in life, whether on land, in air, in water, etc., does yielding mean that you are a push-over? When you rush across, what do you really gain? What may you lose? People who are always racing forward should think it through.

 

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