China's notorious smog problem is crippling the country's airplanes. A mere 18 percent of flights depart on-time from Beijing Capital International Airport, with thick blankets of smog triggering chronic delays and cancelations. Now, the government has come up with a plan to adapt to the problem: require pilots to hone their abilities to land in low-visibility conditions.
Starting on January 1st, aviation authorities will require domestic pilots flying in and out of Beijing — the country's busiest air travel hub — to train for smog-heavy landings. According to anonymous officials, pilots will need to be able to operate auto-landing equipment to touch down in conditions as poor as 1,315 feet of visibility. Right now, that kind of visibility would require diversion to another airport.
"The probability of landing with low visibility is higher."
Because China doesn't have the authority to regulate how foreign pilots are trained, the rules only apply to those flying within the country. Previously, officials had avoided such regulations because of the costs associated with additional training and equipment. Now, however, the impact of smog appears to have outweighed such financial considerations. "The training is very expensive, and the low visibility was not a normal condition," Shu Ping, dean of aviation safety at China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology, told the Associated Press. "Now with more smoggy days, the probability of landing with low visibility is higher."
Delays in air travel are, of course, only one downside to China's ongoing pollution problem. It's estimated that 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 are attributable to air pollution in the country, which causes frequent business and school closures in some major cities.