Chinese Pilots Forced To Learn How To ‘Blind Land’ In Heavy Smog

CREDIT: AP/Alexander F. Yuan

Planes wait to take off at Beijing International Airport.

China’s airline pilots who fly to Beijing will soon have to learn how to land their planes in heavy smog, a skill known as a “blind landing,” Chinese officials said Thursday.

The new requirement will take effect January 1 and will require domestic pilots to be able to land their planes with the assistance of precision auto-landing equipment on on days when visibility is reduced by 400 meters (1,315 feet). Right now, planes are diverted to other airports when smog causes visibility to be that low. The requirement will affect all Chinese pilots that fly into Beijing from other major airports in China.

“Considering the recent smog and haze has bought numerous troubles to air transport in eastern and southern regions, it seems necessary for authorities to ask pilots to improve their landing capability in low visibility,” Ouyang Jie, a professor at Civil Aviation University of China, said.

As the AP reports, Beijing Capital International Airport consistently has the most flight delays of any other major international airport, with an average of only 18 percent of flights departing on time. Smog factors into that high percentage of delays, which are also caused by sand storms, fog and snow, though the AP writes that officials in China rarely blame delays on smog. Many flights from foreign countries, however, have already begun using precision auto-landing equipment when flying to China because of the relatively high percentage of days with low visibility.

The announcement comes on the heels of a week of off-the-charts pollution in Shanghai, smog that forced children and the elderly to stay indoors for at least seven days and cancelled hundreds of flights and sporting events. At the end of the week, rather than improve their system of sending smog alerts to residents, Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau announced that the city would only be sending out air pollution alerts when fine particle pollution is above 115 micrograms per cubic meter — before, a 75 migrogram level warranted an alert. A concentration of 115 micrograms per cubic meter is nearly five times the 25 micrograms that’s regarded as safe by the World Health Organization.

That change in smog alerts could be harmful for China’s residents — a study from earlier this year found air pollution was linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, and a study this month found China’s coal plant emissions are also linked to premature death.