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February 15, 2012

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Late-night flights being studied for Shanghai

CIVIL aviation authorities are researching the idea of extending flights late into the night - so-called red-eye flights - at Shanghai airports to handle the ever-increasing traffic.

The plan, however, is facing difficulties such as lack of public transport at night, especially at Pudong International Airport. At the city's Hongqiao International Airport, complaints are mounting among residents living nearby about noise and safety concerns.

The research, led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, is focusing on eastern China. Officials said they're looking at "flight operation, the condition of aircraft and facility maintenance for night flights as well as the pilots, crew members, maintenance workers and other issues."

They will study the effects on safety with the addition of night flights, officials said. The final decision will be made by the State Civil Aviation Administration.

Few flights now take off between 11pm and 7am at the two airports. Hongqiao International Airport had no passenger planes scheduled to take off or land after 12am, while there are a few international flights landing around midnight to Pudong International.

Noise is issue for residents

Despite the nighttime lull, residents who live near Hongqiao airport expressed anger toward plane noise. Thousands of residents in a community about 3 kilometers from Hongqiao airport protested last year after the aviation authority allowed planes to fly at lower altitudes. They feared the noise problem would worsen.

Aviation analysts said the airports are getting busier. Shanghai's two airports handle more than 70 million passengers a year, a number that continually grows. The city added a new terminal and runway at Hongqiao and plans to build fourth and fifth runways at Pudong.

Airlines welcomed the idea but expressed concern about the limited supply of pilots.

Zhang Wuan, spokesman for Shanghai-based Spring Airlines, said more red-eye flights "would be helpful to release the great pressure on the two airports in the city, while increasing the turnout capacities."

Red-eye flights would be a welcome option for tourists, because fares are often cheaper.

Experts said improvements would need to be made to transportation late at night to carry passengers to and from the airports. The subway, for example, goes to both airports but operates only until about 11pm.


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