Air New Zealand flight to Shanghai turned back over Taiwan reference

An Air New Zealand plane en route to Shanghai was forced to turn around mid-air and return to Auckland on Sunday because the flight’s paperwork included a reference to the disputed island of Taiwan, according to a local media report. 

The Stuff news website on Tuesday cited multiple sources as confirming that documents for the Air NZ flight 289 included a reference to Taiwan which China understood to be an acknowledgement that the island was independent.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force if necessary, has tried isolate the island diplomatically and has waged a campaign to force global businesses, including airlines, to refer to the democracy in official documents as Chinese territory and not a country. 

The Auckland-based carrier had previously said that the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which was carrying 270 passengers, had done a U-turn because of “an administrative issue on our end” and apologised to its customers. 

It has not commented directly on the possible Taiwan connection.

In an emailed statement to Bloomberg it said that a plane that was not yet certified to fly to China was “unfortunately assigned” for the Shanghai flight and that a fresh application for landing permission had been submitted.

“As is required, the application includes a list of destinations the airline operates to, including Taipei,” Air New Zealand said, without elaborating.

However, Stuff reported that officials in Beijing had warned the airline in 2018 to remove any references in its paperwork that suggested Taiwan was a state, but that the issue was not resolved. 

It claimed the problem related to documentation from New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority which was included as part of the application to allow the particular plane to land in China, adding that "the Chinese were very explicit" about what the matter was.

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

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, was quick to clarify that the administrative issue was separate to China-New Zealand relations. 

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson blamed the airline for failing to obtain a landing permit and claimed it had returned to Auckland of its own volition.