Registration mistake turned back New Zealand flight to China

Nellie Chapman
February 13, 2019

It is understood Flight NZ289, carrying about 270 passengers, was operated by a newer Boeing 787-9 aircraft not yet been entered in a database of planes allowed to land in China.

Air New Zealand said in a statement that Flight NZ289 from Auckland to Shanghai was over four hours into its journey Sunday when it returned to Auckland after it was discovered a "technicality" meant the plane wasn't registered in China.

The same flight, NZ289, was turned back on a flight to China on August 24 past year, although an airline spokeswoman said that was due to an engineering issue, not a permitting one.

There is no doubt that the relationship is in a hard state, and many in media and foreign affairs circles are on the lookout for any sign that China is punishing New Zealand. One tweeted: "Midway through our flight from Auckland to Shanghai, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given the plane permission to..."

Independent aviation commentator Irene King said such an incident was highly unusual and knew of only one other instance of this happening with an Air New Zealand aircraft.

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The incident has created a potential headache for New Zealand's government, which has recently suffered frosty relations with Beijing.

An opening ceremony event was to be held at Te Papa on February 20, coinciding with the hosting of 2,300-year-old Chinese artefacts, the Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition. "Them [the opposition National party] spreading misinformation around this flight I see as irresponsible and a real departure on what we've experienced on foreign policy before", Ardern told TVNZ. "That was a effect", she said. It sometimes will have its challenges.

The exhibition - featuring eight warriors standing 180 cm tall, and two full-size horses from the terracotta army, as well as two half-size replica bronze horse-drawn chariots - opened to the public on December 15 in the run-up to the beginning of 2019 China-New Zealand Year of Tourism. "But they (China) remain an incredibly important economic and people-to-people partner", she stressed, citing the ongoing exhibition of China's famed Terracotta Warriors at the National Museum of New Zealand as a sign of strong ties. The exhibition runs until April 22, 2019.

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.

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