WELLINGTON: An Air New Zealand passenger plane flying from Auckland to Shanghai was forced to turn back after about five hours in the air because it did not have permission to land in China, officials said on Sunday (Feb 10).
Flight NZ289 carrying about 270 passengers left Auckland shortly before midnight on Saturday only to return about 10am on Sunday.
Passengers said the captain informed them mid-flight the Air New Zealand plane was not allowed to land in China and would have to go back.
"Midway through our flight, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around. A permitting issue, supposedly," one passenger, Eric Hundman, told the New Zealand Herald.
"I would be stunned if Air NZ had allowed a plane full of passengers to take off without being quite sure they would be able to land it in Shanghai," the assistant professor at New York University Shanghai added.
The airline said in a statement that "a technicality meant the particular aircraft operating this service did not have Chinese regulatory authority to land in China".
After returning to Auckland, the airline texted passengers to say the flight had been rescheduled and would depart Sunday night.
China's foreign ministry did not make any immediate comment when contacted by Reuters. Calls to the civil aviation administration were not answered.
Air New Zealand apologised to passengers and said a special service would fly them to Shanghai at 11pm on Sunday.
"We know customers will be deeply disappointed and frustrated by this situation and we are very sorry for the disruption to their travel plans," Air New Zealand said.
Disgruntled passengers voiced their disapproval on social media. One posted a picture on Twitter of the onboard flight map showing the aircraft turning around over Papua New Guinea.
The same flight, NZ289, was turned back on a flight to China on Aug 24 last year, although an airline spokeswoman said that was due to an engineering issue, not a permitting one.